Agile captains

This blog post will tell you about how we define the role of agile captain, something that I know stands out a bit after discussing with others in the agile community.

In Scrum, three roles are defined:

  • Scrum Master – Leads the team and work with removing impediments to get the work forward.
  • Product OwnerReceives, handles and prioritize the requirements for a product.
  • Team members – Persons that are part of the team that shall be cross-functional and self-organizing.

We are in a transition phase from Scrum into Kanban and what roles shall you have then? Looking in the Kanban literature, it only states:

Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles” (taken from Wikipedia)

It feels awkward to call the team leaders for Scrum Masters when we are not using Scrum. We looked to the world of sports for inspiration.


In most team sports, the concept of captains are present. Like in ice hockey for example. The captains are players with extra leadership qualities that leads the others on the ice. They interact with other ”stakeholders”, like the coaches (to discuss game strategies) and the referees (to discuss decisions that are being made). The coaches are not playing the game themselves, they supervise and make adjustments (enforcing different game tactics, shifting players, etc.) trying to win the game.

Agile captains

For me, an agile coach it not necessarily part of the team. This is how we define agile captains:

  • ”C” – The head captain. A servant team leader with some extra responsibilities.
  • ”A” – The assistant captain. Also a servant team leader with a few extra responsibilities. However we don’t really make any difference in status between ”C” and ”A”, they are equal.

One of them lead the daily standup meeting. Why have two? Maybe the captain is sick or working from home one day, then it is more convenient to have the assistant stepping in. It’s also good to be two persons, to have a natural part to discuss with before making a decision. The captains also work as a interface from the team to other stakeholders. Comparing to Scrum the role of captain has similarities to the ”Scrum Master”-role.


  • Redundancy – If one captain is not present, the other one can step in and for example conduct the daily standup meeting.
  • Sharing work load – An example, each team needs to be represented on a high-level planning meeting. Then the captains can decide between each other, given the tasks they have at the moment, who shall participate.
  • Better decisions – Not one single person being responsible for a decision. There is always another person (the other captain) to discuss with, before making any type of decision. Two brains are better than one!


  • No one solely responsible for the team. Since we are not giving the ”C” captain more status, we don’t have one single person responsible for the team. It could be a problem, leading to a ”blame game” between the captains, but we have not experienced this.


The role of agile captain is working really well for us, what do you call your team leaders in Kanban?

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Moments of Truth

Now I have done quite a few book reviews. They have all been reviews of fairly new books, released in the last couple of years. This one will be different since the book I’m now going to write about was released already in 1987, but it’s still relevant today. I’m talking about ”Moments of Truth” by Jan Carlzon, it was first released as ”Riv pyramiderna” in Swedish 1985.



Some years ago me and my family lived closed to the place where the SAS headquarter was located between 1987 to 2010 in Frösundavik, Solna, Sweden. When I was on parental leave I would often take a walk with the stroller around the office. It is beautifully located in a surrounding park next to a lake. I would daydream and think of the glory days of SAS (Scandinavian AirlineS) in the eighties when Jan Carlzon was the president and CEO.


This is a fairly short book, no corporate bulls**t, compactly told in 135 pages, and divided into twelve chapters. Here is a walkthrough:

1. A Moment of Truth
By ”moment of truth” Jan Carlzon means the few seconds or minutes a customer contact may last, but that reflects the ”functionality” of the whole organization. A customer-driven company is one that recognize that its only true asset are satisfied customers. A leader of such a company can’t be an isolated and autocratic decision maker. Instead, he or she must be a visionary, a strategist, an informer, a teacher, and an inspirer.

2. The Vingresor and Linjeflyg Turnarounds & 3. The SAS Turnaround
These two chapters tells the success stories of Jan Carlzon’s turnarounds at three Scandinavian travel companies.

4. Profession: Leader
In the summer of 1981, the first year he became president of SAS, Jan Carlzon decided to take a two weeks’ vacation during the summer. At his summer house, he immediately got disturbed by the phone ringing and eventually he gave up and went back to the office. Next year he was interviewed by a newspaper on the subject ”taking it easy”. He agreed on one condition, that the article should be published one week before his vacation. In the interview Jan stated that he believed that responsibility should be delegated and so that individual decisions are made at the point of responsibility, not far up the organizational chart. He stated ”If my phone doesn’t ring, that is a proof that I have succeeded”, and then he went on four weeks’ vacation. And the telephone remained wonderfully silent!

5. Setting the Strategy
First assess the business climate and determine the needs of your customers. Then based on that knowledge, outline a business strategy to meet the customers’ needs within the context of the marketplace and organize your company to intelligently carry out that strategy.

6. Flattening the Pyramid
A SAS office in Stuttgart was given three challenges/goals: 1) cut cost without sacrificing quality 2) increase efficiency 3) give the organization more flexibility. Werner Tarnowski, the man in charge, started with closing down one of the two offices (the workload was unevenly spread). He created one cross-functional team that was responsible for all SAS activities in Stuttgart (cargo, passenger sales etc.). This lead to better service because the organization became more flexible (people with different professions now working as a team and stepping in for each other to solve customer demands immediately).

Jan admits one mistake when flattening the pyramid at SAS. They missed out on the middle managers that felt demoted in the new organization, when ”the frontline people” became empowered. Their new servant leadership felt unusual and they needed to learn new ways to handle this.

7. Taking Risks
Here is a quote from this chapter that I really like:

”Wrong decisions should be used as the basis for training; right decisions should be used as the basis for praise and positive examples. A person who is admonished for his mistakes should be entitled to appeal his case without fear of retribution.”

8.  Communicating
In 1981 to prepare for many organizational changes a booklet called ”Let’s Get in There and Fight” was distributed to all employees of SAS (20.000 persons). The booklet was a tool to present the overall vision and strategy, but most important, set the expectations on the employees themselves. Communication, especially with employees, has always been a top priority for Jan Carlzon. During his first year he spent exactly half of his time ”out on the field” talking to SAS people. Another good quote:

”A leader’s ways are watched carefully and adopted by others in the organization.”

Setting a good example is truly the most effective way of communication, and setting a poor one is disastrous!

9. Boards and Unions
The trick here is to share the knowledge about where the company is and where it should be heading to the boards, unions and employees. For the vision to become reality, it must be their vision too.

10. Measuring Results
One of the most basic mistakes that a service-oriented business can make is to promise one thing and measuring another. You will always steer behavior towards what you measure. If you measure ”the wrong thing”, you will also get ”the wrong behavior”.

11. Rewarding Employees
Unfortunately, in many companies (especially in Sweden) the only thing that gets attention is a mistake. To reward employees can be done in a number of ways, some will be good and others will be bad (it’s the same thing as for measuring, see above), but in the end, the richest reward of them all is being proud of your work!

12. The second Wave
How should you continue when you have reached all your goals, is it then time to settle down? No, because ”Everyone wants a challenge”! I end this chapter with a final quote:

”A true leader is one who designs the cathedral and then shares the vision that inspires others to build it.”


What has this old book have to do while lean and agile, you may wonder. First and foremost the values in this book is well inline with the agile thinking, talking about empowered teams that are cross-functional and customer focused.  Secondly this book is for good and bad still as relevant as it was back in 1985. It’s somewhat sad that we haven’t come further in more companies in the world today. If you are an agile person in Sweden I assume you have already read this book 🙂 For you others in the rest of the world, pick up a copy right now!

I should also say that ”Riv pyramiderna” (the version in Swedish, seen to the right in the picture above) is longer, 213 pages and holds more content (a summary and afterwords written by Jan Carlzon in 2008).

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Turn the Ship Around

I was really excited when I got the package from my favorite online bookshop and started to unpack ”Turn the ship around” by L. David Marquet. I have a thing for modern management and submarines (more about that later). I can’t imagine a more hierarchical and ”command & control”-dominated world than the one onboard a nuclear driven submarine! Therefore it’s very fascinating to read how David Marquet was able to turn this strict leader-to-follower paradigm into a new way of thinking with a leader-to-leader approach.



Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by submarines. I can’t really explain why, and I have never been inside one of them. It was ”close” once when I visited Fisherman’s Wharf in San Fransisco, where USS Pampanito from WWII is tied up, but I bailed out, being a little claustrophobic. That originates from when I was accidentally locked into a closet when I was seven years old (me and a friend was playing with a flash-light and I wanted it to be total darkness and closed the door but the lock was jammed). At the age of eleven I watched ”Das Boot”, it’s a tv mini-series that is an extended version of the movie ”Das Boot” directed by Wolfgang Petersen from 1981. I think the summary from imdb.com pretty much nails what it’s all about: ”The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth, and sheer terror.” The sounds from the sonar still gives me the creeps! Looking around a bit on the Interwebz I’m not alone saying that this is the best movie around about submarines!


Picture taken from ”Das Boot” found at http://www.guesswhichmovie.com

I just had to re-watch ”Das Boot” once more when I started to read this book! The movie is even more claustrophobic than I remembered it to be, a true recommendation of course! I guess the life on a submarine nowadays doesn’t look like it was during WWII. Another more modern submarine movie is ”The Hunt for Red October” from 1990 with Sean Connery in the leading role. In fact, on the backside of the book it says ”It’s the Hunt for the Red October meets Harvard Business School”. Do you want to hear more about submarine movies, or shall we start to talk leadership and my review of ”Turn the ship around”? I’ll continue with the latter.


In the introduction of the book the structure of Leader-Leader is introduced. I’d like to quote that text.

”The leader-leader structure is fundamentally different from the leader-follower structure. At its core is the belief that we can all be leaders and, in fact, it’s best when we all are leaders. Leadership is not some mystical quality that some posses and others do not. As humans, we all have what it takes, and we all need to use our leadership abilities in every aspect of our work life.”

The book is divided in four parts and they are:

  • Part I – Starting over
  • Part II  – Control
  • Part III – Competence
  • Part IV – Clarity.

First chapter of Starting over is appropriately called Pain. There are seldom any change without pain. Why change if you can’t see any benefits of it? Remember the old saying ”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” from Bert Lance. Davids failure, and subsequent pain, came from his unsuccessful attempt to empower his team on USS Will Rogers in 1989. They wished the old engineer back that just ”told them what to do”. Why is top-down, leader-follower still the dominating structure? It’s because it can be effective if you are measuring performance over a short run. Leaders are rewarded for being missed when they quit. When performance goes down after their departure, this is taken as a sign of good leadership. But in fact it should be noted as a failure, not training the people and building a culture that ”survives” on it’s own. Are you asking questions to your colleagues to make sure you know, or to make sure that they know? The part ends with the turning point for David Marquet, it happened when he approached one of the crew members with a simple question ”what do you do onboard?” and got a cynical ”whatever they tell me to do” back. That was rock bottom, from this point on everything could only be better.

Second part Control starts off with an inspiring quote:

”Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.”

This means that information should not ”move up” in the hierarchy for make a decision, instead empowerment shall ”move down” as close as possible to the source of information. I.e., everyone shall become managers of their own work. As a leader how do you make this happen? David stated the ”caring but not caring”-paradox. That is, caring intimately about your subordinates and the organization but caring little about the organizational consequences to yourself. One great thing to ”move down” control in the hierarchy is the ”I intend to …”-mechanism they started to use. Don’t tell your  subordinates what they shall do, make them think for themselves and the formulate their thought by using for example ”I intend to submerge the ship” and the captain gives an ok by saying ”Very well”.

Moving on to the third part, Competence, that focus on the mechanisms they employed to strengthen technical competence, first one being ”take deliberate action”. This means that, prior to any action, the person pauses and says what he or she intends to do. The benefits are twofold; 1) It forces you to think before an action and 2) persons around you can stop you if you are about to make a mistake. Competence needs to be in place before you can give control, otherwise it will just be chaos.

Final part Clarity introduces the mechanisms devised to implement leader-leader practices by stressing clarity. To mention a few of them:

  • Achieve excellence, don’t just avoid errors
  • Build trust and take care of your people
  • Begin with the end in mind.


I let the author summarize the book:

”The core of the leader-leader model is giving employees control over what they work on and how they work. It means letting them make meaningful decisions. The two enabling pillars are competence and clarity.”

I can truly recommend ”Turn the ship around” to everybody that wants to ”submerge” into modern management in general, and the leader-to-leader philosophy in specific. This is the best book around about ”sub optimization” (get it? 🙂 ).

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

The Management Shift

I have just finished reading ”The Management Shift” by Professor Vlatka Hlupic. This blog post is a review of the book that was released November 28, 2014. The sub title is ”How to Harness the Power of People and Transform Your Organization for Sustainable Success”. As usual, I start off with a little story.



End of October last year I received the following direct message on Twitter.


I have no idea why this message was sent to me, but it seemed like an interesting book that I wanted to remember. As I have said on the About page I’m sort of in a mid life crisis, I turned 40 last year, and I’m trying to write a book. When discussing my mid life crisis with a friend, she said that ”A mid life crisis needs to be expensive”. Hmm, I thought, what the heck, I need to buy a lot more books! 🙂 This is one of the books that I’ve bought since then. I’m very interested in the management paradigm shift that is now needed, and what I like to call Turn the pyramids.


The Management Shift is divided into seven chapters. Why is described in chapter 1 & 7, what in chapters 2 – 4 and finally how in chapters 5 – 6. Organizations today are facing many challenges due to outdated management practices based on traditional, hierarchical command and control. The old way of managing can’t cope with the unpredictable and highly dynamic reality that is found today both in business and society. Therefore The Management Shift, a shift in mindset, organizational culture and corporate consciousness for sustainable success is needed.

Chapter 1 – Why is it Time Now for The Management Shift

Here you find more than enough of facts and figures to get The Management Shift started. It tells for example that ”only 25% of the workforce is passionate about their work” and ”only 45% of US employees find their jobs satisfying”. This chapter also compares key concepts, terms and theories in the traditional and new management paradigm.

Chapter 2 – The Need for a New Type of Leadership

In this new type of leadership; leaders strive to serve, to inspire others to find purpose and calling in the work they do and to unleash their passion and creativity. Here are a list of some companies that have put new leadership into practice:

  • Semco
  • Brand Velocity Inc.
  • CSC Germany
  • Zappos.com

Chapter 3 – Insights from the Leading Management Thinkers: from the Why and What to the How

Vlatka Hlupic is heavily influenced by the late management thinker Peter Drucker. What suits better then to include a quote from him.

”There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer” – Peter Drucker

You can also find quite a few book tips in this chapter if you want to read more.

Chapter 4 – The Emergent Leadership Model: From the Stagnating to the Unbounded Culture

In this chapter the emergent leadership model is introduced, see the picture below.


© Picture taken from http://www.themanagementshift.com/

Level 1, 2 and 3 correspond to traditional management, Management 1.0 or Tayloristic management. Level 4 and 5 correspond to Management 2.0 or Drucker-based management. A fundamental shift in performance, innovation and engagement happens when a critical mass of individuals move from Level 3 to Level 4, i.e. The Management Shift.

Chapter 5 –  The 6 Box Leadership Model: An Organizational Body Scan

The 6 Box Leadership Model was developed to help companies move from Level 3 to Level 4 in the Emergent Leadership Model, explained in previous chapter. It was done in an online assessment tool with 120 questions (it’s a pity that this tool isn’t publicly available). Finally the 120 questions was mapped to three additional framework for further analysis.

Below is the framework with the key ideas from Peter Drucker:

  1. Productive organization/decentralization
  2. Respect of workers/employees as assets
  3. Knowledge-work productivity
  4. The imperative of community
  5. Focus on serving customers
  6. Responsibility for the common good
  7. Focus on the core competencies/properly executing business processes
  8. Management by balancing a variety of needs and goals.

Chapter 6 – The 6 Box Leadership Model in Action: Practical Examples

This chapter holds examples on how the 6 Box Leadership diagnostic was performed in four different companies (small, medium and large) and what actions that were taken after the reports were presented.

Chapter 7 – The Management Shift is Achievable Now: A Call for Action

This last chapter gives examples of groups and networks that are working to reach a tipping point from Management 1.0 to Management 2.0. Finally key management lessons from this book are described.


Buy this book if you want to have facts, figures and theories to get your management shift started. This is yet another brick in the wall that builds up modern management. If you want to know more about The Management Shift your can find it on the web site. Below is an interview with Vlatka Hlupic performed by Dawna Jones.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Greatness (by modern leadership)

This video just knocked my socks off! I had to make a blog post out of it and share it with you. I have just started to read “Turn the ship around” by David Marquet and this clip is based on that book (and I will of course come back with a review of it later).  Then, what is the video about? I take this from the sub-title:

“Embedding the capacity for greatness in the people and practices of an organization, and decoupling it from the personality of the leader”

First, a short introduction to David Marquet if you haven’t heard of him before. He is a retired captain of an US submarine (USS Santa Fe). Before he became captain on the submarine, the crew were performing badly and the morale was low. David was trained to be captain of another submarine type (USS Olympia), but his superior assigned Santa Fe to him instead. Not being able to “know everything in detail”, and with too short time to learn, he had to rely on the people in his crew to get things moving forward and they certainly rose to the challenge! Now you may watch the clip! 🙂

Greatness (by modern leadership)

This 9:48 minutes completely nails what type of leadership our world needs today. Not tomorrow, but TODAY!!! This is how you should turn the pyramids upside down! 

Creativity, Inc.

”Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace is a book I finished reading before this blog started. However, since it’s one of the best books I’ve read during 2014 (if not the best) it craves a review. It’s not only in my opinion that this book is really, really good, it’s also ranked #1 Best Seller by Amazon.com. It’s mainly about how to build an innovative and creative company, but it is also a biography of Ed Catmull’s life. The book was released April 8, 2014.



”Storytelling is the way we communicate with each other.” – Ed Catmull

First a little background story why I like this book so much. I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, back in 1986. Since then I’ve been a nerd, interested in computer generated graphics. I mostly played games at the time, it continued on the Amiga 500, but I also drew 2D pictures and made small animations. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of computer animated films. I was thrilled when Pixar released it’s first feature-length film, Toy Story, in 1995. Pixar as a company has continued to interest me since they have continued to produced very good computed animated films, I especially like The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Up. When I saw that Ed Catmull had released a book about his life and career, I immediately bought the book.


Now let’s talk about the content in the book. Growing up, Ed Catmull had two idols, Walt Disney and Albert Einstein. He liked to draw and wanted to become an artist, but there was no schools for becoming an animator at that time, so instead he studied physics and computer science. On the way to earning his PhD in Computer Science Ed Catmull made ”The hand”, see below.

Have you watched the clip now? You might think it’s not so impressive, but you have to consider one thing. This was made in 1972! This is believed to be the world’s first computer-generated 3D animation. Now Ed was ready to face his goal in life: to create the first computed animated film. He estimated that it would take 10 years to do it (solving all the technical challenges along the way). In retrospect, it took 20 years.

After graduating, Ed was put in charge of a lab at New York Institute of Technology, but he didn’t want to become a manager. He figured out if he could only hire highly motivated and independent persons, he could continue to do his own research. That didn’t work out quite like he had hoped, so instead he started to read a lot of books on management and strategy. Over the years, Ed sums up that 1/3 of his ideas have been bad, and 2/3 have been successful.

After George Lucas had released Star Wars in 1977, he hired Ed for his company Lucas film. George realized he needed to fund research and development in computer graphics, to make it available for his films. Ed continued to work there until 1986, when Steve Jobs got into the picture and Pixar was born. In 2006 Pixar merged with Disney and Ed Catmull became president of both Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.

”Creativity is problem solving” – Ed Catmull

That was a short summary of the first four chapters from part I (”Getting started”) in the book, now I hope you are curious on the management, creativity and leadership takeaways from the book. They are covered in the remaining three parts of the book (”Protecting the new”, ”Building and sustaining” and ”Testing what we know”). I will not go through all of them here, you have to get the book and read for yourself, but I will list some personal high-lights.

”The braintrust” is a key mechanism at Pixar Animation (now also present at Disney Animation) to push them towards excellence and to root out mediocrity. It’s a group of people without authority (the director of the movie has the final word) that meets regularly to discuss the movies they are making. This forum is a place for intense non personal discussions about problems that needs to be solved.

”The Hungry Beast and the Ugly Baby” is another key element essential for creativity work. It’s about the fact that new ideas are fragile in the beginning and that they need to be protected.

One chapter that requires special mentioning is the ”Afterword: The Steve We Knew” that tells a different picture about Steve Jobs than have been presented in for example the biography ”Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. The picture of Steve being brusque and dismissive is here loosened up. It shows that Steve Jobs during the years changed into a kinder, more self-aware leader. The ones that saw this change stayed with him for the rest of his life.


Summing up Ed Catmull’s career, where he made art and technology come together, you can say he became like both of his childhood idols! I can highly recommend this book to all knowledge workers striving for creativity! I guess that in public Ed Catmull has somewhat been ”hidden in the shadows” of persons like Steve Jobs or George Lucas, but he seems to be a remarkable person of his own! For me he personifies a true modern leader. Ed Catmull is the humble servant of creativity!

Do you want to know more about Ed Catmull and see him talk live? Then I suggest that you watch this wonderful interview made by the co-author of the book, Amy Wallace. It was recorded August 5, 2014.

”Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.” – Ed Catmull