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#107: Transforming Organizational Mindsets with Bernie Maloney

July 17, 2024     28 minutes

Join Brian and Bernie Maloney as they explore the transformative power of mental models, emphasizing the shift from a mechanistic to an organic mindset in Agile organizations.


In this episode, Brian and Bernie Maloney discuss the profound impact of mental models on organizational culture. Bernie delves into how our beliefs and assumptions shape our thinking and behavior, particularly within Agile environments.

He discusses the importance of transitioning from a mechanistic to an organic mindset, focusing on problem-solving rather than merely delivering solutions. The conversation also highlights the role of psychological safety in fostering a culture of experimentation and learning.

Bernie shares valuable resources, including Amy Edmondson's 'The Right Kind of Wrong,' to further explore these concepts. Tune in for insightful strategies for enhancing your organization's agility and effectiveness.

Listen Now to Discover:

[1:03] - Brian welcomes Certified Scrum Trainer® and Principal at Power By Teams, Bernie Maloney, to the show.
[2:15] - Bernie delves into the concept of mental models, sharing the origins of his philosophy of "making new mistakes" developed during his time at Hewlett Packard.
[5:55] - Bernie illustrates the power of mental models and belief by sharing a compelling example that brings these concepts to life.
[13:46] - Join us for a Certified Scrum Product Owner® Training, where a year of coaching and development with Mike Cohn, Brian, and the Agile Mentors Community of Agile leaders is included with your training.
[14:39] - Bernie discusses how applying mental models can enhance the effectiveness of Agile transformations, creating a naturally adaptive and innovative climate.
[18:12] - Bernie offers language as a powerful tool to support the shift to a new Mental Model.
[23:30] - Bernie demonstrates the use of mental models for product owners through the Mobius Loop, providing actionable guidance and examples
[26:27] - Brian shares a big thank you to Bernie for joining him on the show.
[26:59] - If you enjoyed this episode, share it with a friend, and like and subscribe to the Agile Mentors Podcast so you never miss a new episode.
[27:27] - If you’d like to continue this discussion, join the Agile Mentors Community. You get a year of free membership to that site by taking any class with Mountain Goat Software, such as CSM, CSPO, or Mike Cohn’s Better User Stories Course. We'd love to see you in one of Mountain Goat Software's classes. You can find the schedule here.

References and resources mentioned in the show:

Bernie Maloney
Power By Teams
Mobius Loop
The Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well by Amy Edmondson
Agile Teams Learn From Spikes: Time Boxed Research Activities by Mike Cohn
Certified Scrum Product Owner® Training
Certified ScrumMaster® Training and Scrum Certification
Mike Cohn’s Better User Stories Course
Mountain Goat Software Certified Scrum and Agile Training Schedule
Join the Agile Mentors Community
Subscribe to the Agile Mentors Podcast

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This episode’s presenters are:

Brian Milner is SVP of coaching and training at Mountain Goat Software. He's passionate about making a difference in people's day-to-day work, influenced by his own experience of transitioning to Scrum and seeing improvements in work/life balance, honesty, respect, and the quality of work.

Bernie Maloney is an Agile leadership coach and international speaker, leverages his 25 years of engineering and leadership experience to help teams and organizations unlock their full potential. Known for his engaging workshops and impactful coaching, Bernie believes in making performance breakthroughs both achievable and enjoyable.

Auto-generated Transcript:

Brian (00:00)
Welcome in Agile Mentors. We are back for another episode of the Agile Mentors Podcast. I am with you as always, Brian Milner. And today I have a very special guest with me. I have Mr. Bernie Maloney with me. Welcome in, Bernie. I am.

Bernie Maloney (00:14)
Thanks, Brian. Happy to be here.

Brian (00:16)
Great. I'm so excited to have Bernie here. Bernie and I have touched base for years over conferences. We've run into each other and had chats and shared our shared passion for Hawaii and other things. But Bernie was speaking at the recent conference and we've gotten into some conversations. I wanted him to come on because I wanted him to, first of all, if you're not familiar with Bernie, sorry, I see, I just want to jump right into it. If you're not familiar with Bernie, Bernie is a CST. He works at a company called Powered by Teams. He teaches classes, Scrum Master product owner classes and leadership classes and other things as well. But he is a principal at Powered by Teams. So just wanted to give you the basics there before we dive into anything. But the topic that we started to talk about that just as a jumping off place for us is a topic. the topic of mental models. So Bernie, why don't you explain to everyone how you define that, mental models.

Bernie Maloney (01:23)
So, Brian, this is a great topic. I find myself talking about it all the time. And y 'all, I warned Brian, like, he can press play on this, and it might be 15 minutes before he gets a word in edgewise here. It touches on mindset. It touches on a lot of topics. My talk that Brian was referencing at the recent Scrum gathering in New Orleans was make new mistakes, leadership lessons from an Agile success. which goes back to where I really kind of cut my teeth in Agile at Hewlett Packard. See, I'm a mechanical engineer by training. And I cut my teeth in Agile in the consumer PC division at HP about, this is scary to say y 'all, okay, about 27 years ago starting at this point. And some of the fun stuff, it was a bang up enterprise. It was the fastest business in HP's history to hit a billion dollars. And it was just...

Brian (02:05)

Bernie Maloney (02:18)
a great proving ground. We had hardware, we had software, we had distributed teams where volume manufacturing was in Asia, engineering was here where I am in Silicon Valley. Go -to -market for Europe was in Grenoble, France. We had high volume. Some of our products had 100 ,000 units in a single model run, with like 200 models in Europe on a quarterly basis at times. So high volume, high mix, tight margins from a business perspective. A lot of technology products want to have 20 % to 30 % gross margins. That's before you start taking off deductions like expenses and salaries and things like that. On a good day, we had 8 % gross margins for Christmas products, maybe 2 % gross margins. We used to refer to it as we were shipping rotting bananas. And like I said, I was there. When I started, we were shipping six products a quarter. We grew to 20. By the time I left after eight years, we were doing 200 products a quarter in Europe alone.

Brian (03:04)
Ha ha.

Bernie Maloney (03:16)
hardware, software, distributed teams, high volume, high mix. And we did all that with weekly iterations of a plan. At one point in my career, I was tactically responsible for the delivery of 2 % of HP's top line revenue with zero direct reports. And part of the secret sauce of success in that organization was really that mental model of make new mistakes. So that's where the talk title comes from. And in fact, makenewmistakes .com will point to poweredbyteams .com because I own that domain too. But that mental model really helped the organization thrive and not just survive. We went from like a number one to a number five share. Sorry, from a number five to a number one the other way around. Because the founding executives recognized that in that tide of a market, mistakes were probably going to happen. And so what they did is they established the psychological safety. Wow, look, there's another great topic. Make new mistakes. You knew that if it was an honest mistake, it would be forgiven. Just don't make it again. Get the lesson is one of the things that they said. I can even tell you the story about the weekend I blew a million dollars of HP's money and I was forgiven, but you'll have to come to a conference talk for that. So that was just like a great experience. And...

Brian (04:32)

Bernie Maloney (04:39)
After that experience, I went on to TVs. Another part of my background is I shipped the very first internet connected TVs. Look it up, the Media Smart 3760 from HP. It shipped even before Apple TV. It bombed. Okay, it was way ahead of its time. But I recognized that that had been such a joyride. And then I recognized some other stuff that really gets into the psychological, the mental aspects of leadership, high performing teams. And I could, Brian, I could talk about that too, but okay. But that kind of got me to recognize that with those skills, the success that I had experienced at HP could probably be replicated. That's kind of been the path that I've been on for the past 15 years is really helping organizations go along that path. So mental models can be really big. Let me give everybody here an example. And so Brian, I'm going to speak to you as a way of illustrating mental models. So imagine you are physically where you are right now.

Brian (05:24)

Bernie Maloney (05:37)
but it is 150 years ago, okay? Imagine you're physically where you are right now, but it's 150 years ago. Now, Brian, let me ask you, can man fly?

Brian (05:47)
boy, you're testing my history knowledge.

Bernie Maloney (05:52)
Okay, make it 200 years ago, okay? That makes it easier. Okay, cool. Great, now fast forward to the present. Brian, let me ask you, can man fly?

Brian (05:54)
No, yeah, no. Yes.

Bernie Maloney (06:02)
What changed? Nothing about the laws of physical reality. It was just your mental model of what for man to fly means. That's the power of belief, okay? And belief limits a whole bunch of stuff in the way that people behave. So you'll hear Agilent talk all the time about, this is all about changing mindset. I'm probably, Brian, gonna give your listeners some ways of.

Brian (06:06)

Bernie Maloney (06:30)
changing mindset as we go through this, but that's going to illustrate the power of mental models. Now, a big one that I like to use that's specific to Agile comes from Gabby Benefield. She's an Agilist out of the UK, and it's called the Mobius Loop. And I think she's got the domain mobiusloop .com. So everybody can imagine a Mobius Loop. Okay. And what I really like about this model for her...

Brian (06:32)
Sure, yeah, please. Yeah.

Bernie Maloney (06:56) i
s the right -hand half is what a lot of organizations think Agile is. Build, measure, learn, build, measure, learn. The whole idea of the build trap that we talk about in Agile. It's all about the delivery of a solution. Okay? But the left -hand half is all about the discovery of the problem. Okay? And the discovery of the customer. And that's a part of Agile too that most organizations overlook. So you got to ask why. And it comes down to kind of mental models. So when I was at Persistent, if you go look me up on LinkedIn, you'll find some of my employment history. I was at Persistent for a while. They had a really good mental model. And it's something I still use when I go into a client. And they would talk about there's kind of three eras of a company culture. And so culture is really the environment that an organization lives within. And there's an era. where cultures were formed before the internet. So things like finance and government and mining and manufacturing and oil and gas field developed. I mean, I've had clients in all of these areas. And in that sort of an environment, okay, it was, well, an era. One of the things I'll ask, and Brian, I'll kind of like let you represent the audience. Would you say in general, the people that you work with, the markets that they serve, Are they moving faster and all up into a thumbs up, slower, thumbs down, or about the same, thumbs sideways? Are the markets moving faster, slower, or about the same as they were, say, five or 10 years ago?

Brian (08:32)
I think everything's moving faster, yeah.

Bernie Maloney (08:34)
Cool. Okay. Now, how about the technology that your clients use to solve problems for that market? You know, moving faster, thumbs up, slower, thumbs down, or about the same as it was, say, five or 10 years ago. Faster. Yeah, cool. Okay. Now, when things are moving faster, thumbs up for yes, thumbs down for no. Do they always move in a straight line?

Brian (08:46)
No, faster. No, not always.

Bernie Maloney (08:56)
Okay, cool. So now things are moving faster, but they're not moving in a straight line. So let me ask you, do most organizations try and plan and predict? Is it possible for you to plan and predict when things are moving faster and they're not moving in a straight line? Is it easier or harder to plan and predict?

Brian (09:19)
I think it's definitely harder.

Bernie Maloney (09:21)
Yeah, but organizations are trying to do that, aren't they? And it's because their mental model is as a machine. So organizations born before the internet have a mental model of the entire organizational system being a machine, the industrial age, which you can plan and predict. They treat people like cogs in a machine. In fact, the thing that us Agilists will say is, when you say resources, did you mean people? See, that's...

Brian (09:35)

Bernie Maloney (09:50)
That's kind of now we're starting to get into some of the culture aspects of this because language actually forms culture. And so you'll hear Angela say, did you mean people? Like when that whole word of resources comes up. But organizations born before the internet, they've got one culture. Okay, they were born in an era of plan and predict. They've got a mental model of the system being a machine. And your listeners would probably agree most of them struggle with Agile. Okay, now there's another era born in the internet but not the cloud. So some examples like here in Silicon Valley, Cisco, PayPal, okay, lots of us have had exposure to them and lots of us recognize they still struggle with agile because agile wasn't really fully formed and articulated. Then there are organizations that were born in the cloud and so places like Striper Square and I use payments because I've had... clients in finance across all three of these eras. So Stripe or Square, they were born in the cloud where things were almost natively agile because the Agile Manifesto had been published by that point. They just inherently get agile. So these mental models of your organizational system being a machine get reflected in the language. So things like people or resources, it turns them into objects. It enables something I've heard called pencil management. Wear them down to a nub, go get a new one. In fact, if you do the research on where the word resources was first applied to human beings, it might shock some people. So I don't talk about that openly. They'll have to find me privately. I'll be happy to point you out the reference. And once I do, it's like, ooh. But one of the jokes I'll crack. And this is one of the ways that you can start to shift the language. If people call you resources, because you know that turns you into an object, start calling them overhead.

Brian (11:23)
Yeah. Ha ha ha.

Bernie Maloney (11:48)
Okay, it can kind of make the difference there. Okay, so, but you know, if things are moving faster and they're harder to plan and predict, that mental model needs to shift. In fact, in agile, we talk about you need to move to sense and respond. When things are moving faster, it's kind of like Gretzky, skate to where the puck is going. You need to sense and respond to the situation. So a better mental model instead of a mechanism is an organism. Because think about organisms, like cut yourself, it heals, okay? It senses and responds. Or like a forest fire comes in, wipes things out, and nature always kind of fills things back in. Sense and respond. This gets reflected in the language. So Brian, do your clients talk about metrics?

Brian (12:37)
Of course, yes.

Bernie Maloney (12:38)
Okay, cool. So do they talk about efficiency?

Brian (12:41)
I would say a lot of businesses will talk about that. Yeah, sure.

Bernie Maloney (12:44)
Yeah, cool. That's the language of machines. Probably better language is diagnostics instead of metrics. That invokes some of the curiosity. And probably instead of efficiency is effectiveness. One of the things I'll say is scrum is not efficient. It's not about utilization of capacity. It's about the production of value, which is all about effectiveness. See, efficiency or effective. Do you go to your doctor for an efficient treatment? or ineffective treatment, Brian.

Brian (13:16)
Effective, hopefully.

Bernie Maloney (13:17)
Awesome. Do you go for blood metrics or blood diagnostics?

Brian (13:21)
Yeah, diagnostics for sure.

Bernie Maloney (13:23)
Yeah, so now you're starting to get some hints about how you can start to shift the mental model. What you're really doing with Agile, y 'all, is you're shifting the culture, and culture is hard because it's not visible. The tools, the processes, the practices that folks like Brian and I will teach and coach, they're super visible, they're super valuable, but they're often not enough to start to change things. So, Brian, would you say most of your listeners are familiar? familiar with the language of Tuchman of forming, storming, norming, and performing.

Brian (13:56)
I'd say there's probably a good percentage, yeah.

Bernie Maloney (13:58)
Cool. I actually like to draw a Satir curve. So Bruce Tuckman, Virginia Satir, they were contemporaries. They were both just researching human systems. So Virginia did a performance axis on the vertical and a time axis on the horizontal. And the way Virginia described it is you're kind of going along in a certain status quo. And so you're kind of along that baseline. And then a foreign element enters and some change. And then you descend into chaos. And you can't see it. like your performance goes down until you have a transformative idea and then through some practice and integration, you rise to a new status quo. This happens to people all the time when they introduce changes in their life like New Year's resolutions. I'm going to get fit and healthy this year. You know, it's a beach body time. And you start doing it and it's like, this is so hard. You're in chaos. And what human beings want to do is they want to go back to the way things were instead of moving through. OK, this happens when you introduce agile into your organization. You'll hear Agilist talk about this as the Agile antibodies. You introduce it, this is so hard, and people want to go back to the way things were instead of kind of moving through. So the tools, the processes, the practices, they're really good, but they're not powerful enough. You got to start changing the culture. Culture is like what we all swim in, but climate is something that you can start to affect. So climate is a little bit closer in to your team, and you can start talking about these mental models. Like when I was at TiVo, I was hired into TiVo to bring Agile in because I had shipped TVs, I knew about Agile. And I was hired in on, I think I can say this now because we're more than a decade past. Have you all ever streamed anything? Yeah, okay. So TiVo was working on that in like 2009, 2010. I got to see that stuff and I was like, really wish I had taken off for them. But that program...

Brian (15:42)

Bernie Maloney (15:54)
disbanded, okay, and the culture kind of spread in the organization. And I knew that this was a possibility, so when I brought it in, I made sure I didn't just work with my team that was doing a Skunk Works project, where we were just kind of doing some internal development that we weren't, you know, or stealth is probably a better word these days. So a stealth program inside of TiVo that you couldn't talk about. I knew that... when Agile would spread, it would hit some of this resistance, these antibodies. And so I made a case for bringing in people from outside my team so that it was familiar. And when that program disbanded, it organically spread on the cloud side of TiVo because of some of this stuff. So within your own team, you can kind of create a climate. And then when you start to see results like that, that's going to start attracting kind of the rest of the culture that's there. But these mental models, like shifting from mechanism to organism can really help an organization recognize where their limiting beliefs are about how things go. And it's going to be reflected in language. So if you like dive into anthropology a little bit, you're going to recognize that it's really well established. You can change a culture by starting to change the language. And all of us, okay, if you're observing what's going on in Eastern Ukraine here in 2024, that's what's going on. with the Russian occupation, they're changing the language because that's going to change the culture. That's why they're doing stuff like that. So, and even language starts to shape the mental models that you've got. A good example of something like that was when European, you know, when European explorers is the language I'll use, came to the Americas, the natives didn't really have a language for ship. And so they saw these people coming in floating on the water. And that was the way that they could describe it. So even language kind of gets into a cultural sort of a thing. So these are techniques that you can put into your toolkit. Start shifting the language to start shifting the culture, which can kind of help with the mental models. When you got the mental models, that's where the language starts to come from. If you don't have the mental models, you're probably not going to have the language. And I encourage all the folks I work with, start shifting from the whole idea of mechanism to organism. Okay, Brian, was that 15 minutes? Did I go on for as long as I predicted I would?

Brian (18:27)
About 15 minutes. Yeah. No, but I think that's a good point. There's a thing that I'll talk about a lot of times in my classes where I would all say, you know, the waterfall paradigm is one that's based on manufacturing. And there's a false understanding of what we're doing as manufacturing and it's not. It's more research and development. So you have to kind of shift the process to be one that's more conducive. to research and development. So that's very much in line with what you're talking about here. I love that.

Bernie Maloney (19:01)
Yeah. Do you think people would appreciate some book references that can kind of like help you? Okay. So specifically on that whole ethos of experimentalism that you just touched on, Brian, I'm currently going through Amy Edmondson's The Right Kind of Wrong. Really good book. Now, Amy is well known because she helped establish psychological safety as a super important topic in organizations.

Brian (19:07)
absolutely. Absolutely.

Bernie Maloney (19:30)
So she was coupled, I think, with Project Aristotle at Google. And in this book, she unpacked some really interesting stuff. She talks about failure, and there's types of failures. There's basic, there's complex, and there's intelligent failures. OK, intelligent failures, they're just native to science. You know things are going to go wrong. You're going to have Thomas Edison, the I Found 1 ,000 Ways. to do a light bulb wrong, sort of. That's like intelligent failure. Basic failure, she breaks down into, let's see, neglect and inattention. And those are the things that you really want to start to squeeze out of a system. With that mental model of a mechanism, I would say a lot of, call it management, tends to think of a lot of failures as basic failures. And that's where blame starts to come into a system. Okay, so now we're back into psychological safety. Okay, where you want to establish, you know, that was an honest mistake. Hence the talk title of make new mistakes. Okay, so you can have processes and procedures that can kind of squeeze out some of those basic failures. Complex in the middle is really interesting to talk about. As I'm getting into the material, she unpacks... Now, complex failures are those chain of events, you know,

Brian (20:30)
Yeah. Yeah.

Bernie Maloney (20:54)
This thing and this thing and this thing all had to line up and go wrong at the same time for this catastrophic failure to go on. And in medicine, which is where her original research was, they talk about it as Swiss cheese. And she says, if you go into a lot of medical administrators' offices, you're going to find some model of Swiss cheese there. Because they talk about it's like all the holes have to line up for something to go sideways on you. So complex failures. It's a chain of events, a bunch of little things. And she points out that in the research, these often happen when you have an over -constrained system where there's no slack, where you're trying to operate with, get this, Brian, 100 % efficiency. You're trying to load everybody up. So that is just like, it's not just juice on psychological safety, but like, looking at the whole idea of intelligent failures that we want to encourage versus constraining out basic failures versus working to reduce those complex failures and not just thinking complex failures are basic failures, but they're systemic failures that then might be part of the system, might be part of the mental model that's going on that's there. So super juicy stuff.

Brian (22:11)
Yeah, yeah, that's really good stuff. I've always loved Amy's work and I feel, you know, silly calling her Amy. But Amy Edmondson's work has always been great. Yeah, Professor Edmondson. She, the work on psychological safety, I think was just amazing. And the examples she used in her research are amazing. And, you know, all the stuff with Project Aristotle.

Bernie Maloney (22:20)
Okay, Professor Edmondson, yeah.

Brian (22:36)
I love the concept of psychological. I mean, again, not to make this the topic of our podcast, but, you know, I love the idea that they, they, they found that psychological safety was, so foundational that nothing else mattered. That if you didn't have that, that not no matter what else you layered on top of it, it would not fix the problem that you didn't have psychological safety.

Bernie Maloney (22:58)
Yep. And that's one of the reasons why I say Agile is actually a social technology more than anything else. I mean, that's why it's people and people over processes and tools. This is really a social technology that we deal in.

Brian (23:10)
That's a great way to put it. I love that social technology. Awesome. I love that.

Bernie Maloney (23:14)
So kind of talking about Amy and psychological safety and kind of all these systems that we're talking about, another mental model that I like to give particularly my product owners, going back to that Mobius loop. and like on the right hand side is all about delivery, okay, that's where you give team solutions to build. That's what a lot of organizations do. Versus on the left hand side with discovery, it's all about problems to solve. So I like to encourage my clients to instead of just giving people solutions to build, give them problems to solve. Now, for product owners, if you imagine like an onion that's kind of stretched out left to right, so kind of an odd long little onion.

Brian (23:41)

Bernie Maloney (23:58)
and on the far right is your sprint. And then as you go to the left, you're at a release, and further out to the left, you're in roadmap, and way further out into the left, you're into these vague things like vision. So product owners kind of deal with this whole span of things. And in between, product and sprint goals start to make things a little bit more concrete. Okay, and... One of the things I'll do for my product owners is I'll take that Mobius loop and I'll overlay it on a planning onion like that and go, do you get to see how, like what we're talking about here, you're starting out way vague in discovery and you're getting way more concrete as you get into delivery and into the sprint. And really the job of Agile and Scrum is both. It's not just about turn the crank on the machine. In fact, I think it's unfortunate that there's a book title out there of twice. the work in half the time. I actually like to pitch this as more it's about twice the value with half the stress. Okay, now as you imagine that Mobius loop kind of overlaid, one of the things I'll unpack for folks is when you're way out in that vision area, there's a lot of uncertainty that's there, okay? And you're actually going to have to do discovery. You may have to run some experiments.

Brian (24:58)

Bernie Maloney (25:24)
Okay, and it's only as you get closer into delivery that you want to get closer to certainty. And really, that's kind of the job of a product owner is squeezing uncertainty out of the system. Initially through discovery of the problem to solve, who to solve it for, what the market is, but it's the job of the whole team in Agile to squeeze that uncertainty out of the system. Brian, I'm sure you've had folks like talk about spikes. You ever have people get wrapped around the axle about like including spikes in their product backlog?

Brian (25:48)
Yeah, for sure. yeah, for sure.

Bernie Maloney (25:54)
Cool, the way that I frame that up, okay, so here's a mental model. That's just technical uncertainty that you've uncovered. Great, okay, so now we've got to go squeeze that uncertainty out of the system. So stop getting wrapped around the axle on stuff like this. Just like stop trying to plan and predict things. Instead, kind of get into sense and respond on all of them. And there, I've kind of brought it around full circle for you, Brian, for where we started.

Brian (26:09)
Yeah, no. No, that's great. That's great stuff. And I love the fact that we can bring it back full circle. Well, this is fascinating. And like you said, we could press play and go on this for another half hour very easily. But we'll be respectful of people's time here and keep it to our normal time length. Bernie, I can't thank you enough for coming on. I really appreciate you sharing your experience with us. And... what you've learned over your years of working in this profession.

Bernie Maloney (26:50)
Thank you so much for asking me, Brian