Aginext Community

Meet the Community: Craig Cockburn

Next up on our community member chats, we sit down and offer our five-plus-one questions to Craig Cockburn to talk all things visualising strategy.

In your 10+ years as an agile consultant, how have you seen the industry change?

Well about ten years ago I was working mostly with teams doing scrum and a few teams doing scrum of scrums. Not long after this I began to see scaling practices. Shortly after I worked for Directgov. They reformed as GDS [Government Digital Service] and Agile was mandated by government. Around 2011 when I was working in government and when GDS was launched, I realised that Agile was getting a lot more mainstream acceptance in the public sector. There were also some early adopters in finance around this time although more mainstream use of agile in finance and governance models for the finance sector took quite awhile to gain traction.

There have been many changes in tooling support over the last ten years. I first encountered Jira [project management software] ten years ago and, as one of the early players, it has been difficult for more user-friendly tools to disrupt its market dominance. There has of course been major advances in tooling to support DevOps and continuous integration and continuous deployment.

The last five years have seen quite a rise in Scaled methods, some of which has been driven by the desire to sell training courses, accreditations or to have “ready-made” solutions which hasn’t always been a positive move as it often means people fail to adapt or deploy methods appropriately according to context.

In the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to see many agile leaders speak, including three of the agile manifesto authors and it seems there is now a considerable emphasis on people, culture, keeping things simple. It’s about a toolbox of techniques and practices rather than big frameworks. The Heart of Agile approach from Alistair Cockburn would be one example of this.

We are also seeing much more crossover, away from the purely technical approaches into much more of the importance of psychological practices, organisational behaviour, underlying cultures, emotional safety, and the buy-in of the whole organisation including governance, HR and budget. There are still many people new to agile and organisations that are early in their adoption so there is still a long journey ahead of us and many new techniques to be uncovered.

Your Agile Tour London talk “Visualising the why — Strategy and Roadmaps in Context” is a bit of a mix of Simon Wardley and Simon Sinek. Why does the ‘Why’ matter?

Simon Wardley uses Sun Tzu’s The Art of War which was written around 2,500 years ago to explain that strategy includes both of these Whys:

  • Why of Purpose — Why are we doing this?
  • Why of Movement — Why are we making this move now? How do we understand this is the best move in our context?

All too often we see leaders talking about strategy and handing down a list of goals so it’s difficult to see the context. By copying goals without context, this can lead to cargo cult behaviour with teams not aware of the purpose. They are not being fully engaged and bought into the journey. Besides cargo cult, it can often lead to clashes of culture.

Simon Sinek’s Start with the Why comes from understanding the true purpose first to get emotional buy-in, then working outwards from that to understand how we realise that Why and what we do in order to make it happen. When people are bought into the Why, not only are they more likely to be bought into the the journey but also the sense of community or trust which is relevant for emotional safety and avoiding the five dysfunctions of a team.

Goals matter, but understand Why this move now also matters in order to achieve buy-in and alignment. There are potentially many useful moves that can be made, but understanding the context and the “Why this move now?” helps with prioritisation. Then, when we are able to visualise this, it can be easier to communicate outwards to get collective understanding and also feedback.

Check out Craig’s full Agile Tour London 2019 talk here.

Canvases are often synonymous with lean and agile project management. Why do you think Wardley Mapping is more powerful than other visualisations?

I find the theory of Wardley Mapping very useful and relevant. However I also felt that, along with a Wardley Maps, there are a few more steps to follow that help teams translate this into a product roadmap and ultimately an ordered backlog to deliver that roadmap. Wardley mapping by itself typically shows a value chain against technical maturity and how this changes across time. In creating the map, it can help to surface assumptions and help to create consensus. By showing change over time then it can help people to understand what’s moving, what will be affected by that movement, and what is the nature of how the solution will be realised (e.g. bespoke or off the shelf). Typically other visualisations didn’t have this depth and although useful, can feel rather static by comparison.

You’ve described Strategy Mapping as “a technique for visualising future scenarios to help us collaborate.” Explain how it anticipates the future instead of focussing on the present.

With strategy mapping, we are looking at outcomes and the tactics used to support the outcomes together. It factors in with the impact various tactics will have and the options that will arise from decision points. Where relevant, we might also map our competitors’ approaches to understand what they may be seeking to do in order that we can try and anticipate these moves.

Agile is useful in being able to react and adapt quickly but this needs to be balanced with appropriate high-level planning to try and anticipate events before it becomes too late to do anything about it. By presenting different pathways to the outcomes — taking into account context, landscape and competitors — a strategy map will facilitate forward-planning and discussions around future scenarios. Teams have traditionally used roadmaps to facilitate forward-planning over a period of several months to a year. A strategy map can compliment the roadmap approach by providing a higher-level context for the roadmap.

Read more about Craig’s Strategy Mapping here.

What are you most excited to map out now?

At the moment my main source of content for building strategy maps is Brexit. I noticed the complexity of the situation and the unexpected twists and turns together with the apparent lack of strategy. That’s why I chose this as the basis for the example in my talk. After all, if it can work with something as messy as Brexit then it should be a bit easier to apply to your own context.

Bonus Question: Tell us a fun, unique fact about you!

I ran a national campaign to ban smoking in pubs from 1990 when I appeared on Channel 4. This culminated in being thanked in national guide books, appearing in the press and contributing evidence to the Scottish Parliament in 2004 in the run up to Scotland being the first part of the UK to ban smoking in public places.

[Thank you for making the UK better, Craig!]