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Patricia Kong: Know How to Use Evidence to Quickly Improve Your Leadership

In this episode, Richard interviews Patricia Kong. Patricia leads Enterprise and Leadership Solutions at scrum.org. She is a public speaker, coach, a co-author of The Nexus Framework for Scaling Scrum, and a co-developer of the Evidence-Based Management Framework. Patricia reminds us that measuring your team’s success is not just a number on the scale. You must be intentional about your team’s goals if you want to grasp the level of its improvement. When you finish listening to the episode, connect with Patricia on LinkedIn and read her book The Nexus Framework for Scaling Scrum.

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Richard 00:11
Hi friends. Welcome back to With Great People, the podcast for high-performance tapes. I’m Richard Kasperowski. Our special guest today is Patricia Kong. So I first met Patricia as a public speaker. She is a great public speaker. She leads enterprise and leadership solutions at scrum.org. Patricia is the coauthor of The Nexus Framework for Scaling Scrum and the Evidence-Based Management Framework, which I want to know more about. And she’s also the coauthor of the book, The Nexus Framework For Scaling Scrum. To support this podcast, visit my website kasperowski.com.

Richard:

Hey Patricia, thanks so much for joining us today.

Patricia:
We’re terrible at naming, aren’t we? I was just thinking, wow, could’ve done better with that title, huh?

Richard:
Patricia, is there anything else you’d like to add on to that introduction? Anything else? Anything else listeners and viewers could know about you?

Patricia:
I am originally from the Massachusetts area. I work at Scrum.org. I’m actually in the office right now alone and not if … So when you guys come visit, I won’t be here. And then I used to live in France for a little bit. And then I said, “I drank all the wine. I’m going to go back, go back home now.”

Richard:
Because we have wine here too, it turns out.

Patricia:
It’s not as good, nor as cheap. But I did what I had to do.

Richard:
All right. I’m really curious about this evidence-based management framework that it’s new to me. I think I’ve heard about it. I think I read a sentence about it. What is it? Will you tell us more about that?

Patricia:
Yeah, yes, yes. I will. Actually I’ll do more than that. I’ll actually let you know the genesis of it, why we created it. So this framework probably about 10 years ago or something like, I don’t know. Let’s just … COVID has got my brain and timelines really mixed up, but once upon a time there were many organizations that were really concerned about thinking about how they could do better and scale and become bigger and all these things. And we said, “Well, that’s really interesting. What would we look at if we were thinking about how would you use agile principles and scrum to continuously improve your company? And we were exploring that topic. So we were creating something called the continuous improvement framework, which we called CIF. CIF happens to be a washing cleaning disinfecting product in the UK. So we couldn’t call it that.

Patricia:
And it was almost too early for the conversation because organizations were just thinking at that time about how do we get bigger, better, more agile right now. And we said, “Hold on. Slow your courses or whatever that is. And let’s just see, how would you do this with intention?” And if you’re using agility in a way that actually improves what you’re doing, because especially, Rich, with all the work that you think about teams, it’s not just put more people and it’s going to happen faster. It’s that? How do we actually know what goals we’re working toward? And we’ve actually added this piece back into the EBM framework and the guide, but this notion of continuous improvement, really thinking about the goals that you’re working on. That they’re really outcome-based, that it’s not just like, “Hey, we need 100 new subscribers by the end of the year,” to think about it from a more strategic point of view and then say, “What are some of the experiments that we can reach that point?”

Patricia:
That’s cool. So obviously, Hey, we’re the inspect and adapt to people. Let’s do that. But thinking about and asking organizations, when you actually talk about this notion of value, what would that look like? So where are you now, current value. What opportunities do you have outside, that’s unrealized value and then are you capable of delivering those things, so time to market and your ability to innovate. How would you measure and define those things so that you can actually improve towards goals? That was a really long-winded explanation. And I did not give you a definition of … Was that okay?

Richard:
That’s amazing. Thank you.

Patricia:
I gave you a history.

Richard:
And I love it. That’s cool. Evidence-based management framework and I’m thinking, Scrum is an evidence-based management framework.

Patricia:
Holy crap.

Richard:
Oh my gosh.

Patricia:
Not everybody would think that.

Richard:
Wait. So Scrum isn’t just a set of rituals that we have to follow without thinking?

Patricia:
No, we should … Yeah, yeah, we should think. I would suggest thinking and we should use … If you have a Scrum team that you’re working on, you should be thinking about how you could use the events and the accountabilities there to think about transparency so that we could just try to get a little bit better at doing what we’re doing. All right, let me stop faking the funk. Are you experiencing any improvement fatigue or this process exhaustion during COVID?

Richard:
Improvement fatigue or process exhaustion … Me personally?

Patricia:
It’s to everyone and the team of people behind you.

Richard:
Who’s behind me. I hope they’re wearing a mask. What was that question again?

Patricia:
Are people experiencing improvement fatigue? The notion that you need to keep on improving. Do you need to keep on improving your health and trying to do this? The notion that you keep needing to improve what you’re doing at work? And when I realized, at least for me, when I was thinking about this, it was just during this time you have more time to reflect, and I was just getting really fatigued by kind of keeping up the good fight when we talk about we can be better, we can do these things, transformation. And what I realized, and especially with the addition of the focus of goals in this Scrum guide is that this notion of intention and goals and things that actually are necessary to make us kind of understand what direction that we’re going toward are important for us to lessen that fatigue.

Patricia:
I think that we kind of point and say, “Do better, do better. You can do better. You can do better,” but do better toward what has been missing. And this has been a really crucial addition, I think, to the Scrum guide, but also evidence-based management. We purposely added three layers of how you can think about goals or this notion of teams are using, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but like OKR and they’re just like, “Yeah, we have OKR now.” But when you actually think about what they’re using as their goals or their objectives, it’s just micromanagement a different way. I’ve been having those conversations. This is what I’ve been thinking about.

Richard:
I get that. I get that. So not just, okay. It’s not just measuring stuff, but being intentional about what you want and finding a way to move toward it.

Patricia:
Yeah. Like you’re trying to get back to your fight weight and it’s not just the number on the scale, Rich, not just the number on the scale. What is it?

Richard:
This is actually really important for me to remember. It’s not just a number on a scale. It’s how you feel and it’s what you want for yourself. Right.

Patricia:
Yeah.

Richard:
Okay. I want to bring this to teams now. And we’ve talked about teams a little bit. You mentioned this idea of being intentional with your team, should your team keep improving? This is a podcast about teams. And the question that I like to ask my guests is about the best team of your life. What’s the best team that you’ve ever been on in your life team that you’ve been part of, not … We coach and we consult and we teach, but not that kind of team, a team that you were part of and I mean, any kind of team. So this is really broad, any group of two or more people aligned with a common goal, that’s a team. So it could be a work team. It could be any group of two or more people in line with a common goal. What’s your best team of your life?

Patricia:
I think the best team of my life was I was working in a startup and we were struggling for money and we would work long hours and we would entertain ourselves. And we were really passionate obviously about building our product and we just had fun. And there were so many challenges that were against us that we overcame. So this was actually a time when I was living in France and my French wasn’t that good, but it was good enough at that point to be kind of this, work on this team from the product perspective. And not only am I doing that, but I’m working with these developers who weren’t that fascinated by communicating with an American woman in the first place. So we just had some of these things that we were trying to get through, but it was really interesting. And I was learning to adapt into that culture in terms of just living there.

Patricia:
But that team, for me was, it was just intense work, really fun. We had all these other kinds of things shooting at us, but it became so comfortable. We’re always locked into this one room. So our building, we were in a startup, because there was low rent, we were in the oldest brothel in Paris. So our office was like the second, third floor in the oldest brothel la Chabanais.

Richard:
Was it still a brothel?

Patricia:
It was not.

Richard:
What kind of startup was this?

Patricia:
Oh God, I can’t even get into that. There in this building, there was like the menu from the old days. And like literally our office, there were themes. This is very interesting. It’s very, there’s a lot of history, but we just had like … We weren’t in the most beautiful, modern building or anything, but we just had this sense of purpose. We used to just throw toilet paper at each other. We were working really hard together. And then it was just awesome when we got things done because we had so many things against us. And then just the notion that we were gelling together, the personalities were gelling together. We were all very different. So when people talk about diversity, we’re just different in many different ways, personalities and coming together for that purpose to still have a job, even those kind of things where were all there for us.

Richard:
All right. I love all the concrete detail you had. I don’t know if I’m picturing exactly what you’re picturing, but I’m picturing. I’m picturing this team, and then this workplace. I want to be part of that team.

Patricia:
We would do nights of champagne, we’re all suffering together. We would do date like [inaudible 00:11:26] really like just to entertain ourselves in our 14 hour days, 16 hour days. We would race each other crash into each other like bumper cars. And that was a fun team. I mean, that was real, I’ve been on other really great teams, but I mean, when I think of all the things that were kind of, all the pressures that were against us. Fascinating.

Richard:
All right. So, so we’re already there. We’re already back with this team reliving it. If you could summarize the, I don’t know, the sensation of this team of being there, working together. If you could summarize all of that, the way it feels to you in one word, what would that one word be?

Patricia:
Adequate.

Richard:
Adequate. Okay. Tell me more about adequate.

Patricia:
I think when you’re in a space where you’re trying, where you’re racing against time, and you may or may not be building and producing and creating a business that will be good enough. And you are aligning with people who sometimes feel like they’re misfits, and you may have this feeling that you’re really passionate about something, but you have this fear that you are inadequate. And what you’re coming through this experience feeling is that I’ve been afraid of, we have been afraid of being inadequate, and that might be pick your whatever about something. But together, what we realize is individually, and as a team, we are more than adequate. We are actually pretty strong and powerful, and we get stuff done and all those kinds of things. And we have fun and we like each other and we enrich each other’s lives and stuff like that.

Richard:
Nice.Okay. And you know, some … Oh, empirical based observations. How do you know that this was the best team? And this could be subjectively, this could be objectively. What are some ways that you know this was the best team of your life?

Patricia:
I think when you asked me, it’s the one I thought of. No, I think from an execution perspective, not because that’s actually what led my journey to understand, learn more about agile.

Richard:
Okay.

Patricia:
So you can have a really great team and you can be working on really cool stuff, or you could be working on stuff, but is that really actually valuable to the organization and to the world ,is something that is important to consider later. So there’s all these blind spots that I had at this time. But I think what made it particularly interesting for me from a subjective point of view is that feeling that I just explained, to overcome something where you take a lot of people who feel like they’re just individuals and then come together as a team. And as that team feel like you suck and then to be like, “Actually, we don’t suck. And if we suck, we’re going to suck together.”

Patricia:
So that whole thing of everybody being together and having a lot of transparency is really interesting. So all the things that we talk about before we even realize we’re doing what we would call agile or all these things, they were already there. And that’s why when you’re learning and experiencing these things that you actually can work in a different way previously to the way that I have worked, which is really corporate experience. I think that that’s what helped change me as a person, changed how I think about things.

Richard:
Okay. Could you share one of these changes? What’s an example of one of these changes?

Patricia:
I think that I come from a background for instance, that just it’s really about top-down and there’s not value in the teams is just this, we’ll kick it, this kind of thing. And when we were learning in that space, that didn’t, it just doesn’t work. And I think that that, the notion of learning about bottom-up intelligence, really getting people out of talking to the customers, really thinking about how we consider products and users, that was very different. But really the subtle thing is, is about how you think about management and leadership in terms of teams. If we agree that teams are what create value, then we can understand and think about it differently rather than how would we support that? What do other people do who are not in the team, or do you come into the team? What are all those things mean?

Patricia:
And so the skill that you learn, especially when you’re in this environment coming from a corporate environment, and just also, my background is how do you start to manage up? How do you start to change that conversation? How do you invite trust? Like those things, rather than the person on top of the triangle is the smartest person, and that’s where you’re trying to go. My career has been very much smaller and smaller and smaller in terms of size organization I work with.

Richard:
How about some concrete behaviors from this team? What are some of the very concrete things that you did together, toward execution and all this goodness that you experienced?

Patricia:
You know what’s super interesting is when you look at the way that teams come together, and this is from the psychology aspect and something that I learned years ago from my professor at school. We did a lot of the behaviors to try to create this notion of connection, to create these fake connections. So what you see is when you have these young teams together, or whatever, what’s important to them is this, like, “Let’s go drinking, let’s have drinks together, let’s do all that stuff.” And then we’re going to, we have this, we create these events that kind of artificially create whatever. This doesn’t work with french people, American people, and everybody who can’t speak and all these things. But so what became really important was what we were able to collaborate on and work on as a team.

Patricia:
And so the notion, even the language issue that previously I could get by just working in English, I could have whatever done that, but it was so important that I adapted their language to speak French and to do all these things and to take it as far as I could go. And then their willingness to help me with that was really creating a good connection, but it also created a much more … I don’t know if it’s a safe space, but it just created these other things that we were willing to do for each other to learn about each other.Culturally, I think was really interesting, but I would say I knew French well enough, but it was really working with this team. Because they spoke French, they didn’t want to speak in English and I’m in their country that took me to another level. And the, seeing that, I think created more trust and little less conflict, especially when you’re speaking in another language, you’re trying to work in a language. There’s just different … The behaviors where it was just like, I’ve always been used to just being eating lunch in front of my screen. And they were like, “That’s not how we roll.”

Richard:
Like an American.

Patricia:
So we would make a compromise once a week, we’ll go out and we’ll have a lunch together. And all those times we would really just connect as people we started to do … It was what you started to see was behaviors where we would start to be together, even though we didn’t have to. And we would start to do learning sessions. So like we were present on things that we were interested about learning, and it was just really enriching each other. And then the typical stuff, drinking champagne on Tuesdays in our brothel office being poor, being happy about it. Yeah.

Richard:
Typical team stuff. Go into the brothel to drink champagne on Tuesdays.

Patricia:
Yep. Amongst many other things we may have done, but it was really this bonding and this gelling. But I think this being very clear also about the things that we were working on, because we only had a certain runway.

Richard:
In my experience that gives a lot of focus. Right. When you’re, I’ll say, an underfunded startup. And especially if the owners are transparent about how much money there is and what the runway is, how much time there is left, it brings a lot of focus.

Patricia:
Yeah. I think there’s always that pressure. I mean, you don’t have to come down to like the dollars, but there’s, it really brings a focus of what we’re trying to do and then what this would mean for us if not, so maybe that’s leading by fear. I don’t know.It was, yeah. That degree of focus, that degree of, we’re in it together was very much there. I think for me, it’s really interesting when people think about Dan Pink stuff or you think about Maslow’s hierarchy, right. So you have all these things that you need. I think, especially in the agile world, there’s these two levels in Maslow’s hierarchy that’s really around belonging and esteem. And so if you tie that into, like, I’m just thinking this through now, when you’re talking about, when I said adequate, I think that that was, maybe that’s embracing those levels that might be missing sometimes when you’re in a team, there’s we’re motivated and we want to do that. But if we’re thinking about, I think that’s why I really do have the sticky. I never really thought about, do you think you’re in a team rather than just individuals? It’s like is that belonging there? How do we feel about our ourselves and together? And do we agree with that?

Richard:
Yeah. I’d love to hear some advice for listeners. This team success, how could listeners and viewers reproduce?

Patricia:
I don’t know if you can reproduce that experience because I have not been able to reproduce that experience, but it was that time. So it’s that team, but I have had great experiences from there learning, especially at that time, just learning more about how you can work together with the team. And I’ve certainly worked on teams that have been more effective since then, that were more rigorous, but I think the journey of experiencing what it takes to gel on a team, I think for me, it’s really that focus that just brings people together and experiencing conflict together. So things that pull you back and being able to go get over them, that just builds a lot more trust. And I’ve always been, I’m a pretty transparent person, but I think the, it was a really great experience that has probably built me to be very transparent and authentic in how I approach work.

Patricia:
But I think for teams, if they can really think about, are you really in a team? And if you’re not, do you need to exit that team? Do you need to exit that group? Or should you be figuring out what could make you a team? And is it because that there is not a shared intention or goal or focus, would that help you become more of a team so that you’re working on something together because you just defined a team really quickly, right? Like when we said what’s a team, you’re working on trying to solve this problem. And a lot of times they’re not doing that. I think it’s almost like that simplifying and understanding that basic thing first to see how we could gel together, but the other things, all that, that was just a bonus, great life experience.

Richard:
And I love that question. Are you really on a team? That’s such a good question. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Patricia:
So I went through the EBM, evidence-based management stuff quite cheeky, but there’s more information there that’s available on the scrum.org website. There’s an EBM guide and it’s so amazing, Rich, that you were like, “Wait, isn’t scrum, like an evidence-based …” and that’s the thing is that it’s not always used that way. So we’re really trying to think about goals that are valuable for us to pursue opportunities. And we’re working on that then what is the evidence that we have that will help us manage our environments to work toward that way? That’s really what we’re working on. And it’s a hard problem. Measurements get articulated in different ways. So we’re working on that. And we released an assessment and we’re working on some sort of virtual workshop that people can get, look forward to and experience to just kind of say, what are the measurements that we need to show that we’re really improving toward value?

Patricia:
I think this day and time, I don’t know what the listeners are thinking, but it’s just, I think people are thinking a lot more about how they invest themselves and their time. This is also a meeting of the organizations too. And so I think if they’re thinking about the goals that they’re pursuing are closing some new opportunity that’s great. Other stuff in general, I don’t know, in terms of scaling, I’m really interested in. When I talk about scaling now and we’ve actually just released, updated the Nexus guide, it was the notion of being very clear that what we’re trying to talk about is scaling your problem or a solution. Are you trying to scale value, and I’m very focused now on what does it mean to scale down, descale, because you’re going to get more out of that if you simply think about your problems, what led you to become that scale? What would you need to do to bring that back down? And do you have a scaling problem or for instance, a product problem? Because that really messes up teams and what they can do and they’re stuck. So a lot of those kinds of things. That’s what I’m thinking about.

Richard:
That’s cool. That’s cool. I like that idea of the idea of scaling value. It’s not just scaling number of people who could work together on a problem.

Patricia:
Scaling more people, scaling more teams, scaling the product.

Richard:
Yeah. Patricia, how could listeners contact you?

Patricia:
If they wanted to contact me? I am on LinkedIn, Patricia Kong, K-O-N-G. And send me a message, add me and we can continue engaging in the conversation. There’s different ways. I’m on the internet. They can see more of my random stuff and reach out to me different ways.

Richard:
All right. This has been a really fun … I don’t know how, it’s going to be like a half hour episode. I don’t know, but we’ve been here together for an hour now, over an hour now. This has been really, really super fun for me, a great highlight to my day. Thank you so much for joining us, Patricia.

Patricia:
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Richard:
My pleasure. And remember to support this podcast, visit my website kasperowski.com.

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