A Million Intentions and Two Years Later

We, the Pliant Solutions team, are beginning this blog with a little relief, a little angst, and a lot of humility.
…and a deep exhale.

For over two years we’ve intended to create this blog, and now we’re finally transitioning from conceptualization to the almighty DOING.

I often have bright moments of insight, though usually at the most inopportune times. The other day my moment of genius came while walking to work with lunch in one hand, coffee in the other, and two laptops slung across my shoulder. I sped up to the 5th floor, blazed down the hallway to my desk, then…NOTHING. Fingers twitching, mind racing, the blank document stared back at me. So I’m starting simply with this:

On behalf of Pliant Solutions, I’d like to start of with an informal agreement with those that choose to read casually or devotedly follow this blog. Our desire is to make this platform a living social experiment of sharing, collaborating, and challenging thoughts, as opposed to being a billboard for what we think we know. We ask you, the reader, to be open to the ideas and experiences we will share, and more importantly, have the courage to challenge, contribute, and share your own. Seek to understand and support the thread, unless of course, you feel we’re dead wrong, then feel free to call us out–just allow the community to understand your perspective.

(Another aha! right now!) I ask you this: How many perspectives can we explore without the need to shatter someone else’s lens?

I feel most communities struggle with this, be it family, politics, agile, and even in the mindfulness circles I have participated in. Here, in this blog, we won’t claim to be right (or wrong), but will  be willing to express our views and be enlightened by YOURS!

Thank you for reading this. We look forward to learning from this great experiment and hearing from those that choose to engage with our community.


Product Management: A Lost Art or the Holy Grail?

In the adoption of agile, organizations are transitioning from a project approach to a customer centric product delivery model. Now, teams faithfully participate in agile ceremonies: Testers dive deeply into automation scripts; Product Owners (POs) shuffle stories up and down the backlog; Business Analysts worry about story readiness; Program Managers (PMs)are estimating when “we” will be done; Product Managers are evaluating the market (maybe) and developing a relationship with customers (hopefully). Everybody is busy with the HOW of building the WHAT, and we are somehow missing the WHY— the customer VALUE. The customer isn’t delighted. How can that be?!

Here’s the short answer: Even though we have a software delivery framework in place to define stories and deliver to production frequently, there is a gap in the process. The PO’s job is to infuse the development team with a deep-seated understanding of the customer’s needs and market opportunities– but that’s not happening. The Product Manager’s job is to connect customers to an amazing new product but often times that’s not happening either. There’s a fundamental communication disconnect, and we’re losing sight of the WHY. The customer’ solutions and business needs are not being ingrained into the delivery process.

So, how can we better serve our customers and mature as a team?

In this session, we aim to

• Shed light on the evolution of the Product Manager and Product Owner roles
• Understand how—with agile ceremonies and a product delivery framework in place– we are missing the customer value, the WHY.
• Introduce the Pragmatic Marketing contrast and how it’s Product Management Triad can help provide clarity and support to Agile’s Product Owner role
• Provide insight into what traditional Product Management is and how it complements the agile delivery model for the delivery of amazing, customer focused products

Check out the full slide deck:

Scott Blacker, VP Products at AgileCraft

Scott Blacker is a 20 year Product Management veteran with experience leading the product function at multiple early-stage technology companies through periods of explosive growth. At AgileCraft, Scott is responsible for defining, executing against, and bringing to market the company’s products and services, and has helped dozens of companies implement agile practices at scale. As part of his role bringing AgileCraft’s products to market, Scott has focused on supporting companies executing ‘bimodal’ development practices where portions of the organization work in an agile context and portions work in a more traditional (sometimes waterfall) context.

Early in his career Scott lived and worked in Japan, where he served as a translator for the Japanese State Government. Scott holds a BA in International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Scott lives in Potomac, Maryland with his wife Jennifer and two daughters Samantha and Alexa.

Darren Hoevel, Agile Coach at Pliant Solutions

Darren Hoevel is a passionate Agile realist, organizational change advocate, corporate cultural renovator, customer ambassador and founder of Pliant Solutions. He is driven by transforming organizations into self-managing, self-organizing teams with high morale. Darren prides himself on being not just a coach but a leader, helping team members achieve success on an individual level through a collaborative environment which, in turn, contributes directly to the health and success of an organization.

Darren has helped large organizations to successfully scale their agility initiatives in size and across locations. He is an ICAgile Training Partner, SAFe® Program Consultant, CSP, CSM and Certified SPO, and many more. He earned his bachelor’s degree from San Jose State University and his MBA from George Fox University.

The Composition of High Performing Teams

By: Bryan Miles

“Companies know that they derive greater creativity and innovation from teamwork – but what, they wonder, makes a great team?” – Margaret Heffernan


“We need to do that section again.  Bryan, you’re late in the second measure and the intonation in that final chord isn’t lining up. Your pitch is a little high.”

It was true. My colleague was right.

“Ok, let’s do it again,” I said.

We had been rehearsing for over two hours. I was tired. It had already been a full day at work followed by the gym, and now it was after 9:00 on a Thursday night. The pressure of the upcoming competition was starting to get to me.

I wish this is the part where told you how well it went when we played that part again…but, that’s not the case.  I didn’t get it.  We spent fifteen minutes more on that section and ended rehearsal for the evening.

In agile terms, I was the group’s major impediment at that moment.
As I packed up I knew it was on me to work that section on my own before our next rehearsal.

We hear the term “high performing team” thrown around everywhere in the agile space. This leaves many people with two big questions:
What, exactly, defines a high performing team?
How can we as coaches help these teams develop?


In their book The Wisdom of Teams, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith define a team as  “A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

According to their research, high performing teams display six key characteristics:

  • Small enough in number
  • Adequate levels of complementary skills
  • Truly meaningful purpose
  • Specific goal or goals
  • Clear working approach
  • Sense of mutual accountability

Of course, not all teams with these characteristics are “high performing”. So, what defines a team as high performing?

Peter Hawkins, a formidable voice in team coaching, explains:
“A team’s performance can best be understood through its ongoing ability to facilitate the creation of added value for the organization it is a part of, the organization’s investors, the team’s internal and external customers and supplier, its team members, the communities the team operates within, and the more than human world in which we reside.”

We know the environmental factors that must be present to create great teams, but in order for a team to be defined as high performing, we need to look at the value they deliver.


Looking at the above brief interaction with my quartet (small team number), we exhibit several of the components of high performing teams:

There is a strong sense of vision and purpose.

We have many defined goals as we prepare for future performances and competitions.

Over time we have developed a sense of security and safety in the group. We are open to discussing new and differing ideas. We have created an environment where we appreciate candid feedback even if it is hard to both give and receive. We all appreciate and respect this clear working approach and bring our unique and complimentary skills to every rehearsal.

There is also a strong sense of mutual accountability within the group. The team relies on me to know and understand my part and to execute it flawlessly under pressure. This requires dedication outside of rehearsal. Each member spends several hours a week preparing and practicing before we rehearse as a group(adequate levels of complementary skills).

Our individual passion for and playing experiences come together to make the group what it is. Leadership roles change constantly, with each person stepping up when needed, just as in the music. There are no soloists. The music demands that we step up and be heard at times, but it more often requires we hold back and blend with the other players to support the lead line.

Our companies want high performance. It’s up us to help create the environment. So I challenge you to write your team’s story. Does your team display the six key characteristics of a high performing team?

We want to hear from you! What are you doing to help create high performance in your organizations?
And if you’re having problems fine-tuning your team, don’t wait for the Agile Fairy to arrive, give us a call!

Integral Agile Series–Spiral Dynamics

Deliver impactful lasting change through mindful awareness of people and organizations.

Spiral Dynamics is the first model we will explore in our Integral Agile series. Spiral Dynamics presents us with a series of “memes” illustrating levels of maturity and complexity in human consciousness. Many of us have heard of “Teal.”  In this session we will put perspective to Teal, and other memes, to better inform the work we do and the way we understand people and organizations.  We will define and describe attributes and examples of the Red, Amber (Blue), Orange, Green, and Teal (Yellow) memes as they are the levels illustrating the vast majority of our world’s population today.

Whether we are Organizational Designers, Transformation agents, Agile Coaches, ScrumMasters, Project Managers, or general IT consultants, we need to understand the people and organizations we are affecting so that we can truly achieve our intended impact.  Have you ever wondered why a team pushes back when trying to work within an Agile practice?  How about why a Program Manager eventually squashes the autonomy and effectiveness of a successful and productive Agile team? Why are some hellbent on revolutionizing industry, advancing science and technology, and creating more efficient ways to produce product, while others are motivated to help and comfort people or save the planet?  Are hierarchies good or bad?  Should we flatten them (isn’t everyone talking about that these days?) or are we actually better off maintaining them?  By understanding the levels of psycho-social maturity of human consciousness you will know the answers to these questions and many others as you become more mindful and aware of “where people are” and what motivates them.

What is Coaching?


The presentation is about coaching. It introduces the audience to coaching from sport coaching through personal coaching to group coaching and then to agile coaching and beyond ….

Speaker bio:
William Strydom is an Agile Coach working in the Federal space.  He was the Vice President of Technology at an educational company before focusing his career on Agile.  He
has over 10 years experience in Agile and over 25 years of IT experience ranging from project management, software development and systems analysis in federal
government, local government, banking and educational sectors.