Last week, we sent our Scrum Master department to the Windy City for ALM Chicago (Application Lifecycle Management), a conference focused on improving business dynamics through forward-thinking leadership, agile principles and team building.

While our team brought home plenty of takeaways and “Aha!” moments, we noticed some recurring themes at the conference. Three of our Scrum Masters share their favorite insights below, including the true nature of business change, how to actually be agile and the value of trust.

profpicChange is Messy, and That’s Expected – Kate Griggs

Whether you’re planning on changing your development style from waterfall to agile or going to switch the snacks in the break room, change can be a painful – even messy – process. Unfortunately, that makes change scary for a lot of organizations. Many people misunderstand the core tenets of change, so here are some great ideas to keep in mind.


  • Change is about being vulnerable. People tend to wait until they’re bulletproof to propose change.They want to make sure that they’re the most equipped before potential failure. The problem is it’s highly unlikely that anyone who actually feels bulletproof will be willing to change. Propose change to someone at bulletproof level and you’ll hit more opposition, foster more complaints and lose trust. Admitting weakness or failure upfront is brave and honest, and will ease the transition towards acceptance for the change. You’ll reap benefits faster and more often while gaining respect for your transparency.
  • Change is about discomfort. Uneasiness during change is normal – you’re venturing out into previously uncharted territory. Ease discomfort by implementing a safe communication zone: share open and honest thoughts early and often.
  • Change is not linear. Innovation and creativity are two main values to keep in mind here – understand that neither of them are predictable. It’s a virtual certainty that you’ll need to make small changes during a large change! Trust in the certain emergence of new ideas and better practices as you go – there’s no way you’ll realistically have all the answers in the beginning.
  • Change has a beginning and a middle. However, it should be an ongoing process without a set endpoint. You can start to implement a change, and people can accept that change and attempt to make it a norm, but you won’t ever want to be back to a resting place. Let yourself be inspired to constantly innovate and make sure you don’t regress back to the way things used to be.
  • Change is good. Foster a company culture that lets you experiment and change things both small and large. Open up communication lines early. What’s not working now? What can we do to make this better? Encourage new failure – people will be less apprehensive to try new things. Remember, better organizations lead to better products, not the other way around.

Doing Agile Isn’t the Same as Being Agile – Jennifer Fix


If there’s one thing we learned during our switch to agile, it’s that there are many “shades” of agile. If your organization has made the transition to an agile process framework, and if you’ve seen higher returns and better software as a result, it can be easy to believe that you have arrived, and why wouldn’t you? You’re ahead of the curve, entering into lightly chartered waters and are actually making it work! Take a moment to pat yourself on the back, because you truly are ahead of the game.

However, just because your development teams have adopted agile methods doesn’t mean you have an agile organizational mentality.

For agile to be truly successful, it needs to permeate through your entire organization – top down and bottom up – and the principles that govern your agile development teams need to govern your collective organization. At 352, you can see agile reflected in our values, our sales and marketing teams, and even in our logo. But many companies only make it to team-level implementation while ignoring the benefits that agile can bring when applied throughout an organization.

Common examples of this disparity include a clear lack of purpose and vision within an organization, competing incentives and drivers, micro-management and rigid or antiquated approaches to problem solving. If this sounds familiar, I encourage you to take a step back and evaluate what you’re ultimately trying to accomplish, because agile is most powerful as a method of being, not simply a method of doing.

Achieving High Performance Through Trust  – Sarah Urriste

A major theme at ALM was the shared characteristics that shape high-performing, high-trust companies. Top companies recognize the need for continuous integration and the value of building a culture of deep trust between team members.

Chad Albrecht, CEO of Centare, discussed the importance of a people-centric culture that promotes leadership over a process-centric culture. The most successful organizations focus on people, understand teams, implement continuous improvement, promote pragmatic decisions, and don’t reinvent the wheel when a simpler solution will work.

Gene Kim, author of the Phoenix Project, indicated that 89 percent of high-value-performing organizations have infrastructure artifacts in version control and 82 percent have automated processes to create environments on demand. This lets a company like Amazon build and deploy to production every 11.6 seconds.

How do these organizations achieve this success? They understand that those who do the work should be both accountable for successes and responsible for making decisions which leads to greater team trust, higher performance, and greater success.

In placing a great deal of trust in their teams, these organizations enable their teams to push new code continuously, reducing the number of deployment incidents and making room for changes in the process, framework and landscape without needing to rework their approach.

We’re Doin’ All Right

What was our favorite take away, you ask? Quite simply: We’re doin’ all right, which is not to be confused with the Van Stephenson song… or the Kenny Rogers rendition… or the Queen song (is it Throwback Thursday?). My fellow Scrum Masters and I went into this conference expecting to be overwhelmed by the amount we would need to change as an organization to be truly agile. In a refreshing turn of events, we left with reinforcement that we’re on a solid path forward. We certainly have room for improvement, but we’re doin’ all right… and that’s all right with me (now it’s definitely Throwback Thursday).

Image Credit: Robert Lowe


352 is an innovation and growth firm. Leading companies hire us to find billion-dollar opportunities, build killer new products and create hockey-stick growth. We bring grit and new-fashioned thinking to innovation, digital development and growth marketing.