Back from Hell

After the most recent Fuck Up Story at Kyndryl (read below the separator), I am back in town as what I love to be and where I add a small dent in the universe with some more business value.

Right now, I am helping a client from retail logistics to fit its IT department into its Digital Transformation initiative.

Enterprise Transformation Implementer or pragmatic non-orthodox methodologist, business value artist, and digital evangelist for good practices in the realm of new ways to work in complex and complicated IT environments. You can read more about it in the new skills and focus area section about this.

This is at least my tag. Clients usually call me Scrum Master or Agile coach, depending on their corporate glossary and lingo perspective.

However, who cares. The title of an entity within an ontology is, well, just a title. The ontology network behind that entity counts, and I listed the most relevant ones.

The blog has been quiet for a much too long time, and now I am free again to share my personal opinions on how to get more Business Value through Digital Transformations.

My most recent Fuck Up Story

It is now the first anniversary of my most recent Fuck Up Story, which I want to share now. Retrospectively it is a tour de force in consistently doing the opposite of what I usually advise my clients to do.

Before the story started, I was just another Enterprise Transformation Implementer and Methodologist at a larger international consulting company. I am still an undogmatic SAFe Program Consultant (SPC), blending in valuable parts of LeSS or Management 3.0 or whatever fits the client’s situation. Cognitive Science and the Cynefin framework also belong to my preferred toolset. As a multi-loop learner, I am eager to absorb (steal) good ideas every day. It is a tremendous honor for an idea to be stolen, used, and applied, right?

So, back in 2021, I had my international network, from which I learned and contributed valuable content and insights. My opinion was sought after, and this was highly motivating. My workshops, training, and coaching were highly appreciated. I had a fan club of peers and younger consultants who vividly participated in my after-work sessions.

I was a little unsatisfied with the complexity of the projects I was engaged in. After all, Germany still needs to catch up regarding digital transformation.

However, I was not at all satisfied with my title, which did not reflect my work and, from my perspective, did not support my job, even though I was already set up on a promotion path that was just terribly slow.

Then, out of the blue, a head hunter connected me to some guys from Kyndryl, a company name I had never heard of before. Their story was simple.

We are Kyndryl. We are the managed service part of IBM, which will be an independent startup with 90.000 employees and plenty of resources.
We are the heart of progress and will provide our clients with outstanding mission-critical infrastructure and related services.
We are abundantly backed with resources and are looking for somebody to revive our business consulting practice in Germany.


My mood at that time was a little bored and a little too comfy…

Three thoughts came to my mind:

  • IBM is a tough one, and I heard a lot about the mindSET and culture there from peers, colleagues, and clients (especially their concerns).
  • Business consulting as a playfield would open up many ways for innovative value-adding consulting. The spot to grow and contribute to smart growth (greed).
  • Well-serviced Infrastructure is, by definition, a critical part of actually all modern value streams. More development value stream during the transition phase from the old to the new target model, more operational afterward. However, the efficiency and effectiveness of the operational phase are shaped at the beginning when I would take a significant part.

You see how I arbitrarily constructed a rational story to allow my greed to win this battle in my mind. Sold! My brain had decided, and all rationality came under the bus from now on. Kyndryl spiced this up with a fantastic monetary topping, but I was hooked on the story even before. In my defense, I had four talks with guys from there. My fault was not talking to a client. However, retrospectively I learned that you could not diagnose yourself when affected. Even when looking for an alternative perspective, you will ask people whom you know in advance they will confirm your bias. I still need a fix for this. It is like Hofstadter’s law. It also applies, even when you consider it.

I told my old company about the package, and they told me: “Kurt, we can’t match this offer, and we have no idea how they calculated this. It is not going to work in our market, and you know it”.

I knew, but I was already sold on the new story and did not listen at all. I was entirely hooked on the bias that “what you see (think to see) is all there is” – Kahneman’s famous WYSIATI.

My plan A

Rally a team around your vision and show results early with little investment. Prove it is the right way to go further. My call to implement the plan was: Give me three iterations for four consulting features for a team of five for the next six weeks.

It would have allowed me to introduce new ways of work, set up a fresh curriculum for the new practice based on existing and missing pieces, build the first new workshop, sell it to a client, and generate the buzz to get attention from many more to join. I was not even calling for a fully dedicated team, just >60% to make their priority cristal clear to themself and the rest of the company.

Approaching Kyndryl

After I signed up, Kyndryl got very quiet. I never got in touch with the promised mentor. I never got the promised hardware. The onboarding was basically non-existent. However, I was in a honeymoon mood and did not perceive it. Again: WYSIATI is at work.

Arrival at the client

Even before the onboarding, they approached me with: “Kurt, what do you think about jumping into a project and taking responsibility for a newly discovered requirement at one of our strategic clients? After all, it is the best way to learn how we work, right?”. Me: “Bring ’em on!” The requirement was vague:

“We found a list of unclear, unconfirmed applications that were not on the radar but must be moved to the cloud. Oh, by the way, there are only three weeks left until we are out of the old data center. We just need some structure and transparency on the new sub-stream from a seasoned guy like you. No need for subject matter expertise. We will cover this part with lots of warm bodies and the lead architect.”

It took me two days to talk to the guys at the client, to get a glimpse of how this fits into the overall transition, to get a very rough overview of the roadmap, and to sketch out a scaffold for a draft proposal and to get some transparency on the ongoing work that the program manager highly appreciated.

On the third day, the budget owner got highly upset about why the final solution was still not on his desk and threw me out during the initial order clarification session.

I am really used to clients expecting miracles. This one was orders of magnitude into madness. It did not hurt me, as it was crystal clear to everybody that it was just a way to punch Kyndryl in the face by pointing me out.

Retrospectively again my fault. From the beginning, it was clear that all were in beta brain wave mode, fully on adrenaline and pressing the fast-forward button on everything. There was no communication. Nobody was listening. Everybody was very busy with cover-your-ass activities. Actually, everybody was trying hard to survive somehow.

Arrival at my new not-a-team

It was a bumpy start and a great learning opportunity, so in my first team gathering, I presented my approach and findings to my new colleagues. I did it with a tool they had never used before: Mural, an online collaboration tool. Again, I was blind to the fact that the team did not match the IT business consultants’ stereotype. All were hardcore IT SMEs. The concept of an online whiteboard was something somehow peculiar to them. All were very far away from new ways of work and related tools. The shared tool stack was Email, Microsoft Office, WebEx, Slack, and Box.

However, they, the team, and my boss highly appreciated my fresh approach and were looking forward to learn how to apply it. I thought: “OK, that’s a good start.”

Retrospectively again my fault. What they actually tried to say was: “We have no idea what you are talking about and have our own business, go on as long as you do not plan to stay in our way” – just in a very polite way.

Oh, by the way, the team is, according to Katzenbach’s and Smith’s classification, not even a workgroup. It is an arbitrary assembly of people assigned to a manager. Lead span: 18 persons. A relatively large number for a group of knowledge workers with no overlap of skills and without any alignment to a shared goal.

Karoshi happens in Germany too

One day before this tragic event, my boss and I chatted in a very dark mood about how to kick off my initiative.

Kurt, remember we are doing fats and oils on the lowest level of the machine room.
We are not supposed to talk with clients if not directly asked to.
Your plan looks good and may work, but there will be no investment from the company. Everything has to be profitable right from the very beginning. There has never been an investment in my twenty years at the company.
Can you risk investing some of your paid time off into it and find others to join?


I did not take this seriously and replied: “Sure, bring ’em on!”

The next day he died because of a heart attack, a perfect example of Karoshi. I assume the workload, the regular 60+ hours per week, and the slow progress finally killed him.

Retrospectively again my fault not to realize that this was an established culture. People take pride in working excessively and ignoring the consequences for them and also for the quality of the output. Usually, I stay away from trying to alter culture.

After his team was assigned to another manager, the new lead span was 40 persons.

Uncovering Shit

Meanwhile, I was digging through the vast amount of stuff in Kyndryl’s Warehouse13 of documents. All outdated, irrelevant in the current market, and orphaned, but this did not bother me as I thought: “OK, at least a clean greenfield to start.”


Kurt, you must reuse our content. We can not afford to create new content when we have so much valuable old content.
As a former product manager, it should be easy for you to productize it.


Next client

At the same time, I got my second client assignment. I gained new hope, this time as head of the promising knowledge management sub-stream. I could not be more wrong.

Knowledge management is a vast area where you can have a tangible impact on an organization. You can switch some points to support a shift towards a learning organization. You can bake SECI or similar concepts right into the fabric of a new value stream, or you can schedule some dates for some training in an excel table and be done with the job. That was what they expected. A very simple one, one without considering that some folks will eventually have to run several times through certifications when the fail ratio is at 50%.

Liberating structures, working agreements, knowledge exchange, socialization mechanisms, or team enablement ideas? All went into the trash bin.

We do not have to invest in people. They bring all the required skills with them, and we can have new ones when they fail.


Networking as an alien

Meanwhile, I was networking a lot. There were a handful of other new hires on my level that took work to get to. After getting in touch with them, I knew why. They had already given up and went on I-am-sick-while-looking-for-my-next-job-mode or were in the end stage, hoping that a final 80h-per-week-for-a-month-rush would open the gates to the promised lands.

I joined some other former IBM folks on my level in customer engagements, helping them out with SAFe. It was surreal. I had excellent talks with clients where there was an instant joint understanding of digital transformations, implementation paths, value streams and frameworks. I had a hard time explaining to my colleagues afterward what we were talking about. For them, it was just Big Juju and Much Magic – spooky, and it did not link to: “buy this extremely expensive piece of molten sand wrapped in heavy metal.”

Imagine, there was just ONE other SAFe SPC there – on the other side of the planet in Japan.

However, I have to mention an excellent international agile community far away in the US and a very nice nice guy covering mindfulness, again in the US or on the international senior management level, not in Germany, not in the trenches. Two drops lost in an ocean.

Around that time, I also started to bypass hierarchy to get in touch with higher levels. Unfortunately, I can’t speak Klingon. One told me: “Kurt, you are a really good consultant and as such a total alien here”. I also realized there was no change or transformation team. The senior management plan was one sentence: “just do it.” You may now ask: what, why, or how, right? Well… that remained unclear.

My new plan B – run away

Obviously, this was kind of a Kobayashi Maru test for me.

  • I do as they want: this means totally ignoring all my knowledge, principles, beliefs, and values.
  • I do as I want: this means they will fire me in some weeks.

My Capitan-Kirk-Solution: I quit before they can fire me!

Post mortem

Long story short, it did not work out as planned, and when I realized I was in the wrong place, I did what I would advise my clients: move on!

Now I am back as Enterprise Transformation Implementer and doing what I love and can do well, my Ikigai. Consulting, training, coaching as a hired gun and working in the trenches on all levels with the management and teams to infuse perpetual growth or Business Value, as we call it in our current lingo.

Again, I can share my insights on topics from the domains of lean-agile methodologies, complexity theory, and cognitive Science to make digital transformations successful – stay tuned…

Initially I posted this last Monday around 22:00 in the evening on LinkedIn. Four hours later I already had an email in my in-basket from my former boss begging me to take the article out. I agreed to take out the part on Karoshi on LinkedIn. Here you still can read it and I think it is an important part.

Extended Business Model Canvas (OOP2021)

Organize around value is since 5.0 the new and probably most fundamental SAFe principle to thrive in the digital age.
To do so, you must talk about business value. You must understand how hard it is to get a tiny glimpse of it and find ways to let it emerge. This task is within business departments, already a tough one.

When you are in the digital transformation business, you are more likely to be within the IT silo. Evangelizing business value can end as a Don Quichote raid against adamant windmills.

At the core, there is the value stream. The value stream simplifies Porter’s value chain by only considering actions that add value and lets you see a stable connection from trigger to value. Even though passing through a whole value chain may take some time, it is happening now, and it is static, as the value stream does not change while generating value. Those value streams are the foundation of our civilization. They are on horizon one or within Zone One or in the Simple Quadrant of the Cynefin framework. We have our processes and good practices to tweak those. Real-world complex value streams are usually the result of decades of tweaking value streams. The model year upgrade for cars or smartphones is an embedded metamorphosis of current business value and less the evolution of new business value.
Those good practices and processes focus on identifying non-value-adding activities within operational value streams and reducing waste in general to improve flow.
The development value stream would benefit from more radical in-take and less boring new product configurations that have to cloak themselves as epics. The value stream is for itself, just not flexible enough to bend in new directions. For this, it needs development value streams as the hammer and anvil.

However, new Business Value yielding new Digital money is essential for smart, sustainable growth and to be able to thrive in the Digital Age.

To do so, you must have enough in your Zone Three to defend against attacks from the Chaotic Quadrant that may disrupt your business.

It is good advice to start transformation on the portfolio level and connect the company from the strategic exploration on the portfolio level down to tactical operation on the team level, but how do you achieve this?

It is good advice to take advantage of innovation riptides sweeping from team backlogs to the portfolio kanban, but how do you achieve this?

Which artifacts do you use to capture such a spectrum? Which artifacts have relevance on both portfolio and team levels?

The Business Model Canvas, which is quite popular in the startup scene, is a great way to estimate and communicate business value from the orbit, but what when you are not working in a startup on the runway?

My proposal is a slightly enhanced Business Model Canvas, that assures even more room for innovation, especially in more settled organizations with an established reporting culture.

The Extended Business Model Canvas (EBMC) links backlogs better to corporate strategy, considering the organizational operation. It keeps everybody in the same boat, and it helps Product Managers and POs to communicate better.

It will contribute to making the difference between programs and corporate strategy more visible.

This is how the Extended Business Model Canvas looks like


It has two additional boxes with a significant impact:

  • Contribution to strategy
    This is a great tool to clarify how the idea aligns and adds to a coherent set of actions.
  • Technical Debt
    This helps to document the amount of instability that is about to be built into the system or has to be somehow managed.

You get an instrument to do stuff that is not aligned with the strategy. It is good to have a tool to allow tactical considerations to overrule strategy from time to time. However, it is crucial to track how far you deviate from the strategy.
You get an instrument to document the dirty hack level that will materialize as technical debt you do not want to be accountable for.

How to apply this? I am running EBMC workshops typically with 6 to 12 people. Use Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles as an ice breaker and then start to work with the canvas. Take a look at the session recording on how to do this. You will typically need three rounds with 2 to 3 hours, including breaks.

You can download the slides from Slideshare here.
You can view the recorded OOP2021 session on Youtube here.


Back in 2006, I listed in a blog post the application I perceive as true killer applications. I am somehow proud that the list items have evolved as expected, including the still mission portfolio app.

Today I have to add another one to the list I was not aware of. We, I mean, we knowledge workers, need a library application.

I consume roughly one hundred books per anum. Besides, my milestone books and the all-time epics you lose control over a lot of valuable knowledge. Even outdated stuff is helpful, as you should put it in a basket labeled: outdated.

Last year I stumbled over a little know app I want to share here: Bookends. It evolved into one of my most valued apps, as I can finally have a full view of my library.

Tag Cloud from the books consumed in 2019 so far…

I want to share the 2019 and 2018 slice and the way I am sorting and categorizing my library, hoping for some valuable good ideas to add on top.

My Ontology has Realms, Domains, Themes, Topics, Media and Rating

The breakdown is, of course, a highly personal perspective. I would love to see other perspectives.


and this is the phantastic output you can generate with Bookends (the 2018 and 2019 slice from my library).


Allweyer, T. (2015). BPMN 2.0 – Business Process Model and Notation: Einführung in den Standard für die Geschäftsprozessmodellierung (1 ed.). Books on Demand.

Bostrom, N. (2016). Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Reprint ed.). Oxford University Press.

Christian, B. G., Tom. (2017). Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions.

Christian, D. (2018). Origin Story: A Big History of Everything (Later Printing ed.). Little, Brown and Company.

Domingos, P. (2018). The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World (Reprint ed.). Basic Books.

Duke, A. (2018). Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. Portfolio.

Ellenberg, J. (2015). How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking (Reprint ed.). Penguin Books.

Gharajedaghi, J. (2011). Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture (3 ed.). Morgan Kaufmann.

Hands, J. (2017). Cosmosapiens: Human Evolution from the Origin of the Universe (1 ed.). Harry N. Abrams.

Harari, Y. N. (2019). 21 Lektionen für das 21. Jahrhundert (9 ed.). C.H.Beck.

Kalbach, J. (2016). Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams (1 ed.). O’Reilly Media.

Knaster, R., & Leffingwell, D. (2017). SAFe 4.0 Distilled: Applying the Scaled Agile Framework for Lean Software and Systems Engineering (1 ed.). Addison-Wesley Professional.

Laloux, F. (2015). Reinventing Organizations: Ein Leitfaden zur Gestaltung sinnstiftender Formen der Zusammenarbeit (1 ed.). Vahlen.

Larman, C., & Vodde, B. (2016). Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS (Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Cohn)) (1 ed.). Addison-Wesley Professional.

Laughlin, R. B. (2006). A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (New Ed ed.). Basic Books.

Leffingwell, D. (2011). Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise (Agile Software Development Series) (1 ed.). Addison-Wesley Professional.

Leffingwell, D. (2018). SAFe 4.5 Reference Guide: Scaled Agile Framework for Lean Enterprises (2nd Edition) (2 ed.). Addison-Wesley Professional.

Mathis, C. (2017). SAFe – Das Scaled Agile Framework: Lean und Agile in großen Unternehmen skalieren (2., überarbeitete und aktualisierte ed.). dpunkt.verlag GmbH.

McChrystal, G. S., Collins, T., Silverman, D., & Fussell, C. (2015). Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (1 ed.). Portfolio.

Meyer, E. (2016). The Culture Map (INTL ED): Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures by Erin Meyer(2016-01-05). PublicAffairs.

Mezick, D. J., Pontes, D., Shinsato, H., Kold-Taylor, L., & Sheffield, M. (2015). The OpenSpace Agility Handbook (2 ed.). Freestanding Press.

Mintzberg, H. (2005). Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development., 480.

(2012). Prozessmanagement: Ein Leitfaden zur prozessorientierten Organisationsgestaltung (7., korr. und erw. Aufl. 2012 ed.). Springer Gabler.

Reinertsen, D. G. (2009). The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development (1 ed.). Celeritas Publishing.

Robertson, B. J. (2015). Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World. Henry Holt and Co.

Schwartz, M. (2016). The Art of Business Value. IT Revolution Press.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization (Revised & Updated ed.). Doubleday.

Simler, K., & Hanson, R. (2018). The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life (1 ed.). Oxford University Press.

Taleb, N. N. (2016). Incerto: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes, Antifragile (Box ed.). Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Taleb, N. N. (2018). Das Risiko und sein Preis – Skin in the Game. Penguin Verlag.

Tegmark, M. (2018). Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (Reprint ed.). Vintage.

Voss, C., & Raz, T. (2016). Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It (1 ed.). HarperBusiness.

Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2017). Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win (New Edition) (1 ed.). St. Martin’s Press.

Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2018). The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win. St. Martin’s Press.

Wolff, M. (2019). Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Large Print ed.). LARGE PRINT DISTRIBUTION.

Yakyma, A. (2016). The Rollout: A Novel about Leadership and Building a Lean-Agile Enterprise with SAFe® (1 ed.). Alex Yakyma.

Yudkowsky, E. (2017). Inadequate Equilibria: Where and How Civilizations Get Stuck. Machine Intelligence Research Institute.


Balve, P. (2019). Management 4.0. Books on Demand.

Diamond, J. (2011). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition (Revised ed.). Penguin Books.

Diamond, J. (2019). Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change. Allen Lane.

Gothelf, J., & Seiden, J. (2016). Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams (2 ed.). O’Reilly Media.

Marquet, L. D. (2013). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (1 ed.). Portfolio.

Müller, D. (2018). Machtbeben. Heyne Verlag.

Review, H. B., Porter, M. E., Kim, W. C., & Mauborgne, R. A. (2011). HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Strategy (1 ed.). Harvard Business Review Press.

Robinson, D. A. J. (2013). Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu James Robinson(2013-09-17). Currency.

Rock, D. (2009). Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. HarperBusiness.

Rumelt, R. (2017). Good Strategy / Bad Strategy: The difference and why it matters (Main ed.). Profile Books.

Schmidt, E., & Rosenberg, J. (2015). Wie Google tickt – How Google Works (1 ed.). Campus Verlag.

Schuster, S. (2018). The Art Of Thinking In Systems: Improve Your Logic, Think More Critically, And Use Proven Systems To Solve Your Problems – Strategic Planning For Everyday Life. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Schwartz, M. (2017). A Seat at the Table. IT Revolution.

Schwartz, M. (2019). War and Peace and IT. IT Revolution.

Sterman, J. D. (2000). Business Dynamics. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Suarez, D. (2019). Delta-v., 448.

Time for some change

A fully controlled blog is a great playground to test out some essential web technologies and not only to speak or write about it. It is a great sandbox to set up your very own sand castle.

However, it takes time and to be honest to myself, I sank by far more time in updates and configuration compared to writing. My excuse is simple: after technological blog housekeeping, I feel I have done enough and move on to the thing on the task list. 🤓

Visible deliverables for others, besides the initial setup: little to none…

Visible impact on my banking account: well, it does not hurt, but it is evident, and I can think of many better ways to spend money.

Visible impact on my learning curve: gone, since the initial setup. Hosting and blogging have both evolved, and I am stuck with a technology stack I would not recommend today to my clients.

Last not least: who cares? This is not the appropriate channel even for the tiny microblog content I could have delivered.

Facebook is dead and was always private. I am still struggling with for fun or more private stuff, but!

…Photography has finally taken off, even though not here. I have now more than 27 million views through 😎

my first picture of the day @unsplash

I enjoy reading and will try this sooner or later from the publishing side when I have no longer an excuse for technological blog housekeeping.

So here we go: this blog moves to blogger. Dead boring but stable, far less risky and free of additional charge. I can not preach MVPs and work only on bells and whistles when it comes to my stuff.

Have I mentioned less risky? It is incredible how much attacks you have to fend off, even for a web site with such a low visibility profile. I do not want to even think about being more successful with a fully self-controlled web site! 😱

TL;DR, actually this is just a hello world post to check the layout. Stay tuned at your own risk for more content. You have been warned. 😉

Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Aguilero – Episode 3


Dear reader, a friend of me and I are starting this story about Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Aguilero. It is a stage where we can hopefully can kick-off some not so mission critical but important trains of thoughts about our professional life.

For my whole life, I have seen, perhaps a little too much, the potential for innovation and smart growth. This has a local near term view where I see new money when the right things are done with the right technology in the right way. It is a painful role, as you are by definition, a minority and has a hard time to sell it and to get it done. The new word for this is Digital Evangelist. It has also a long-term view where we, or what can be considered as we after the singularity finally happened, are spread out through the galaxy and Mars is just one of the colonies in the solar system. This is my Mad Scientist hat. Keep this in mind, when you stumble over some sarcastic, fatalistic statements – it is just a self-protection mechanism.

However, in our professional life, I see an intensifying Filter Bubble that massively distracts us from the bright future and the work that has to be done to get there. Everywhere around us, we read the posts we want to read. This includes travel pics from friends on Facebook, great inventions, success stories on how smooth the digital transformation works in big companies and of course, as we are so uber-intellectual, spiced up with a well balanced media mix on political achievements, the permanent critical global threat level, the latest sport results and – weather!

I also see that Deep Work is buried in short term-ness and actionism, and people are still happy to pretend they are multi-tasking all the shit flying from all the fans around them. As research shows, this is simply wrong. As research also shows, this is linked to the skills we acquired in our recent near term history — the ability to build entirely virtual stories, to share those by language and to even believe those.

In this environment, or reality, I have a hard time to match the great success stories with my personal, professional experience and I know nobody, who does not admit the same, even though it may take one or more glasses of wine.

So, curtains for Mr. Waterfallon, Mr. Aguilero, and friends…

PS: The overuse of all current buzzwords is an excellent way to pass through most Filter Bubbles in my network neighborhood. I also apologize for overstressing the average attention period.

Episode 3

Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Aguilero are fictitious freelancer project managers, agile coaches, and digital evangelists. Today they attend the kick-off meeting for a large-scale agile project for a big blue chip company.

The CIO Mr. Werewolf is giving a speech to his new digital transformation team. In the past, he was not a true agile fanboy. When he buys a story, he makes sure it will be his story. The crowd is assembled in the conference room on the top floor of the company headquarter skyscraper. The view of the sunset is gorgeous, but all eyes are on Mr. Werewolf. Everyone knows that Mr. Werewolf is not amused if you are not listening.


…and the Blockchain will be our new Internet for transactions. My IT-team will lead the transition to a bright future. With Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, IoT, and Big Data, we will build the software factory which will transform the whole business model and drive the digital revolution towards a smarter way to work.

Our agile approach is a vital part of this initiative and may become the new industry best practice.

The whole management is dedicated to take control and help wherever it is necessary. You all know, I hate surprises. However, bad news must travel fast. But I am confident, and there will be no bad news.

Mr. Werewolf makes a pause, smiles like Jack Nicholson in Shining, make eye contact with everyone in the audience, and concludes:


We will lead. We will manage. We will succeed. Thank you very much.

The crowd spends frenetic applause. Small talk. Cheap coffee. No one wants to leave the room first. Hand-shaking. Boot-licking.

Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Aguilero shake hands with Mr. Werewolf, mumble some compliments about the visionary and encouraging speech, withdraw and take a seat in comfortable armchairs to see the breathtaking view of the setting sun.


You see, it works. He gets the air time for an agile story which he fought against for years. Now he is capturing this agile story and turns it into his very own truth because he is the one controlling the storytelling channels. This truth is then the foundation for even more budget he is allowed to burn, also though it will have nothing to do with the agile mindset.

Mr. Aguilero rolls his eyes and throws up his hands in a gesture that reminds of worshipping ancients gods after an epic defeat.


Yeah, he is still the old one. He works on his dark dream of ultimate control in his software castle, why not just follow the alpha male?


Look, he is just CIO, he is still having a hard time on the board of directors, as he is perceived as the tech guy, even though he has the best handicap. He is just looking to run the shop smoothly in an environment with less budget, less time to deliver, and higher operational pressure. In our days IT has little in common with innovation, which is my part, and you know I have a hard time to find sponsors for this. The real power is the CEO and strangely the COO. I see no reason why we need a COO and a CIO. Both run the company, and you can not isolate IT from the rest. It is again silo thinking, just agiler.


The agile manifesto has been digitally transformed, reinterpreted, demystified. You know why I am a fan of agile now! Because it gives us delivery managers the ultimate control over teams, to measure their inefficiency. It provides a wide selection of scapegoats if something fails. I love it, and as Mr. Werewolf, I can put nearly any story in the velocity or other KPIs my clients think are useful for them. They fake us, and I fake them.


I am not contradicting you. The current agile hype is the greatest danger to the agile idea. The dark powers of dogmas and culture are about to engulf this fragile idea and ultimately kill it as they have done with so many in the past.


Backlog items in, product out, and some work accidents in between. A factory, right? In our modern agile world, we do not even need real blood or human sacrifice – it is OK to tell a story. You should be happy, in ancient times you would have been dead so many times!


Why do you think we are here? Let me guess: you are confident to have mastered the software factory fake story, and you assume to be now immune to his tricks? Never forget you can only control what you measure, you should only measure what you can influence, and you can only affect the people around you. So your delivery job is one predefined story at the very end of a giant beast. Do you know his full agenda? I am confident, against better rational judgment, that I can contribute some few dents in the universe for a better future. In the past, this role has been often misused for propaganda. Future is innovation and requires change – a bad thing for the predominating conservative mindset on C-level.

Creating software has always been part of designing, building, and running organizations. A factory is a part just of the day-to-day operations. Creating and designing is full of risk and uncertainty. It’s for the entrepreneurs and visionaries. The action is for the bean-counting managers. It’s so absurd to organize the creative process of software design and development with an operations management approach.


But we are already doing this in oh-so agile projects. Sprints are just sections on the assembly line. WIP management, and this is what we still do. Well, the metaphor sucks, but you know what I mean, right?


You are right. We do not expect an assembly line to come up with an invention, but that is precisely the dilemma software is facing. Maybe I have to go back in history, to make my point clear.


Please do not! Do not re-tell eons to explain why something failed yesterday. Please…


It has always been a complex world, and it was hard enough to cope with it in the past. It was complex even in times when there was stability. Brick and mortar factories were built on best practices learned at a time before the industrialization started. Steam and electricity paved the first wave of corporate evolution.


In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, developers were real men coding machine language, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real little furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.


In the beginning, there was only one variable for business: the counter. It was much more important what to do than how to do. With scaling the denominator came into the game…


I am getting tired already. Please proceed!


Those companies were built to last for decades if not centuries. Then, from the 50ies until Netscape was released, came the digitalization. Most like to call it computerization, and only the current topics digitalization, but it is just marketing. It is typical business lingo bullshit that sounds great and is as wrong as describing great inventions as a quantum leap. How ridiculous is a statement from a company like PwC claiming they are digital?


Yeah! We are playing bullshit bingo now! Bingo! Four in a row!


Shut up and listen! I lost my train of thought. Ah! Digitalization was the next corporate evolution, still with the same mindset of WIP-management. Methods of operations research, which are OK, as long as applied to real-world problems and a set of over-simplifying methods from the not-so-scientific world of economics, rooted in linear models and a deep belief in rational decisions based on facts – the causality misassumption. Correlation is not the same as causality – read Wilmott and Taleb. You may learn stuff you could apply to your world. However, it helped us to integrate SCM, MRP, CRM, PIM, many other TLAs, and to get to the next level of optimized mass production. We were still building cars, incredibly more efficient, but what about effective? The damn vehicles again do not drive themselves or fly.


And now we integrate WTF and LOL. Aren’t cars close to autonomous driving? My kids turn into teenagers and may never need a driver’s license.


Filter Bubble! Do you think that our automotive industry is willing to give up lessons to learn in the last century? Do you think our politicians can pave the way for the discussion on new laws that are necessary to make this happen?

In the last century, a business could be planned. When the plan did not fit, marketing mesmerized the masses to carve whatever was pushed into the markets. At the same time, messages were transported from top to bottom – and middle management jerks felt important in doing so. They learned the cooking receipts that worked at that time. Now they are in charge, and the cooking receipts are deeply embedded. Cooking receipts became routines, and routines became the culture – the hidden immune system in organizations. It assimilates all that fits and spits out the dead carcass of anything that is different. As it is so typical for most prominent companies, it also turned into dogmas, the dark matter version of culture, which is embedded in the society itself.

Other as biological entities that have an increased probability of dying, culture and dogmas have an increased likelihood of becoming immortal! This does not match very well with the typical project timelines I am facing.


Here we agree. If you say all that too loud, you will be spat out. Preferably from the top story of the corporate headquarter skyscraper. The setting sun will underline the dramatic message: Look at Mr. Aguilero. He denied the software factory. What a creep, but we knew it from the very beginning. We have both witnessed this ceremony many times, and Mr. Werewolf has always surprised us with a new level of unprecedented cruelty.


Funny. But please do not behave as a goldfish and be patient! Here is the point: Complexity and speed have not just increased; it is growing exponentially – it is exploding! Still, our core brain is mostly reptile. 2% of our thinking is aware. We are mostly on autopilot and driven by the old fight or flight reflex. We are not rational beings, we do not act intelligent, and we have a hard time to assess facts in an objective, unbiased, non-emotional way.


I read Kahneman, too. Nice read. So what?


We cannot assess risk and uncertainty, but we measure and plan on an incredible detail level. Software is soft…


so many of your arguments are…


…but software supports real hardware and the emotional animal inside us, the ideas we try to articulate using a tool that is 50 thousand years old, and the culture of the tribes we live in. Hardware is less virtual and potentially better understandable – it can be engineered. Plumbing can be crafted. Engineering provides the method set for stuff that is already known. It can be planned as long as it is not a real innovation.


The software can also be engineered. In complex environments, there is hardly any alternative to do so.


But then it fails to unveil its real power! As I said, the business has two sides: One side, the denominator part, is about optimizing existing business. It is close to engineering and can be planned. The other hand, the one that counts, when it comes to real substantial growth, requires innovation. This is more a form of art. It requires creativity, and it can not be planned. Large corporations miserably fail at innovation. So they have to buy it.


Yeah and please do not forget, they just brought us to create the illusion of a creative process while we’re squeezing the last drop of blood out of our scrum teams – all to meet Mr. Werewolf’s timelines. I am happy to deliver him precisely what he deserves, a sweet story with no link to reality, except my banking account…


Again why are we part of this excellent transformation initiative? I can not tell why, but I have a terrible feeling. I have the awful sensation we are exceptional guests at a scarification ritual.

What is your actual influence on the package you should deliver? What are my possibilities for influencing the business behind the lighthouse projects we should work on? Why am I not allowed to talk to stakeholders directly? Why is the project site so far away from the HQ? Why is our contract just for the first four months and not longer? Why is he not working with one of his smart asses he is so proud of? What is his real agenda behind the shiny agile transformation story?


Ask this, Mr. Werewolf directly. But maybe you want to catch him in the basement of the building for safety reasons. Oh, I guess this sprint is over – without any shippable conclusion, too bad.

Suddenly Mr. Werewolf drops in to collect some more merits for his visionary speech and the two have to stop their debate. But don’t expect this conversion to be over yet.

To be continued…

Triage, Prioritization and the Extended Business Model Canvas

Agile development teams forge user journeys, personas, user stories, requirements, and features into backlogs.

Then some magic happens, and with the help of the product owner, some of those backlog items materialize into reality. A great job is done, and everybody is happy and moves on to the next job.

I want to take a more in-depth look at the somehow vague process of triage on the backlog of an MVP. I do not like the word Prioritization because it is too much linked to priorities (plural), and I think there is always one priority possible at the same time.

For a typical product manager triage translates to pain. We are permanently being torn apart between ideal product strategy and dead boring urgent quick wins from low hanging fruits. Triage or as far as I am concerned Prioritization is a tricky, painful task! I am also not a big friend of quantified approaches as the Prioritization Matrix from the Six Sigma world. When you torture data long enough, it will confess everything you need! 😉

We POs give our very best to get the maximum for everybody, but it is impossible to make everybody happy. Miraculously even though many are so glad, everybody agrees to blame us at the end.

It is, therefore, in our very interest to moderate and communicate this process in the best possible way to get extraordinary results, but also to lower our pain.

User stories, story points, and epics are just not enough to get a backlog that sustains some heavy fire from some stakeholders.

The weak point I would like to address is the somehow isolated, greenfield view on the importance that typically leads to triage.

The Business Value is a significant first step, but how is it defined and how was it derived and calculated?

The Business Model Canvas, which is quite popular in the startup scene, is a great way to estimate and communicate business value from a bird’s eye view, but what when you are not working in a startup on the runway?

Reporting the ratio between innovation, evolution, and maintenance is also an excellent foundation to assure a little more change and lift-off from the operational runway.

My proposal is a slightly enhanced Business Model Canvas, that assures even more room for innovation, especially in more settled organizations with an established reporting culture.

The Extended Business Model Canvas links backlogs better to corporate strategy, as it considers the organizational operation. It keeps everybody on the same boat, and it helps us PMs or POs to better communicate and is smooth.

One caveat to keep in mind! This is no snake oil for the not-so-seldom situation, where the top sponsor from the stakeholder community has his very own agenda to survive the next report period. But it will most probably make the difference between programs and corporate strategy more visible.

I usually like to report the following KPIs:

Current backlog (with business value as the difference between size/complexity and effort/costs)
Breakdown of innovation vs. evolution vs. maintenance
The Extended Business Model Canvas for epics selected user stories or low hanging fruits
…and, this is how it looks like:

Extended Business Model Canvas

It has two additional boxes with a significant impact:

Contribution to strategy
This is a great tool to clearly distinguish between low hanging fruits (those are so low that they rot on the ground – for a reason).
Technical Debt
This helps to document the hack-level, that amount of hacking and a good indicator for the instability that is about to be built into the system (after all every system should be rebuilt from time to time, and some hacks may help to get this done earlier).
Not every user story or backlog item has to be linked to the Extended Business Model Canvas. It is enough it introduces the two additional boxes to support your reporting.

You get an instrument to do stuff that is against the strategy. From time to time, it is good to have a tool to allow tactical considerations to overrule strategy. However, it is crucial to track how far you deviate from the strategy.

You get an instrument to document the dirty hack level that will materialize as technical debt in the future that you do not want to be accountable for.

I have used this tool with some success in the past and would like to get your feedback and ideas on it…

Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Agilero – Episode 2

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Aguilero recently met after years at a conference. They used to work together in the past. By chance, they are now again working together on a project.

Mr. Waterfallon is one of those seen-it-all been-there-done-it guys with lots of project experiences – good ones and bad ones. Mr. Aguilero is a hot-shot. He is the one who neither knew nor cared it was impossible and did it anyway.

Raise the curtain again for another round in the ring of deathmatch arguments on business, IT and all the rest.

Mr. Waterfallon

I must admit I converted to agile! Since we met the last time, I had the opportunity to be part of a large scale agile project. And you won’t believe it, and I am fully convinced now.

Mr. Aguilero

Somebody pinch me please, I must be dreaming. What happened? Did you read the agile manifesto for the first time?

Mr. Waterfallon

I knew the manifesto probably even before you did, but I believed it was about fairies and unicorns. Now I know it is the American Dream of the IT industry. Make the team believe in it, and they will accept any additional pressure. We did Scrum, and I learned to love it. It turned our team into slaves.
Full commitment, direct personal responsibility and accountability, daily stand-ups with full transparency of individual failures, and all the blame went to the product owner. It was wonderful. You know as in old times, and I know you are used to this, so let us do this in our project. Please be my product owner.

Mr. Agilero

A slave team? A scapegoat product owner? What the…?

Mr. Waterfallon

As said: it was great. I’ve never seen that kind of absurd control over a development team. Although a lot of time was wasted because the scrum master in charge, the product owner, and the developers were on different planets. Due to the pressure and transparency, all mistakes became public. The developers wanted to cover their errors and compensated by overtime, and the provider added extra staff no one was charged for. The customer did not have to search for an Achilles’ heel. It was served to him on a silver plate.

Mr. Agilero

I am speechless!

Mr. Waterfallon

And now comes the catch: There was even the choice whom to blame in each situation. Where there is Scrum, there are backlog items. Its the product owners responsibility to write them – and everyone knows the POs of the world are neither qualified nor do they have the time to do it. So one could choose whether to blame the developers or the product owners for screwing it up as I said: excellent!

Mr. Agilero

Well… The gods created the earth and hades. They also established an outpost of hades on earth to prepare some of us here on earth – I have no idea where I got that bad karma, but it is the way it is… They called this Fegefeuer Product Manager, Product Owner, and Business Analyst.

The pressure a team allows is within their control. It is the old prisoner’s dilemma they must overcome. This is where a scrum master, a real team player, can help. I somehow envy them because the various agile frameworks have some tools for them. It is also solely focused on the team itself, which lowers the overall complexity.

The product owner or business analyst approach is a different beast.

But please, be my scrum master, and I will tell you my plan to survive.

Mr. Waterfallon

You can call me your evil scrum master from hell. I can’t wait to heat the fire!

Mr. Agilero

So first of all, Agile is currently at the peak of the hype cycle. Your arguments are the best evidence for this.

Agile is not about controling. It is about collaboration. You can control a contract, but then you will need a plan that is carved in stone. You will get what you asked for, and each change will have a high price, as everything is predefined. Sticking an agile tag on this project perception and perceiving it as a tool to squeeze the last drop of blood out of the team is exactly what agile is trying to prevent. It responds to change, and the result is better as the initial plan since business, development, and users are working together to build the best solution.

The development team has to be perceived as part of the solution. Right now, in the best case, the development team is kept at arm’s length. This is contract thinking and not collaborative – therefore not agile from the very beginning! Most often, the development team is just a bunch of slaves, and the business expects execution only. I have seen this too many times: the senior management likes agile, as it is suitable for marketing but still asks at the end when all features (which they always can remember from the kick-off) are going to be delivered – of course at the same fixed price.

The architecture is an epic story for itself. It has to be in place as a solid foundation when we are talking about a service life cycle of more than two years, which should be hopefully the standard. I think we agreed on this last time we met. Today I see MVPs, and the architecture is just a documentation of a very early prototype – so the business and the development team is doomed by technical debt right from the start.

The development team should have a personal interest in building the right solution. Idealy they will use it for themselves. This knowledge is 20 years old and can be found in the famous cathedral vs. bazaar article from 1997. It is a good starting point for a product manager or product owner to sell the vision. This might not work for every solution, but at least for some aspects or components. It will require a leader and not a boss.

Last, not least, you need to cover more than just frontend, backend, and design. At the very beginning, there must be a strategy in place. You will need to understand your users truly, this is an ongoing process. Technology and implications must be outlined – this maps directly to the architecture. Production and operation must be thought out from the very beginning. The best frontend user journey is useless in terms of business value when the support tools suck. This links to an essay from Jesse James Garrett back in 2003. When those roles are in place, agile project management really kicks in and delivers.

Mr. Waterfallon

Nice sermon. You know too well that all these prerequisites have never been observed in corporate reality. So shall we heat hell now, or what?

Mr. Agilero

Damn it. Yeah, heat hell!

Mr. Waterfalon & Mr. Agilero – Episode 1

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Mr. Waterfallon and Mr. Aguilero meet again after years during a conference. They used to work together in the past. Mr. Waterfallon is one of those seen-it-all been-there-done-it guys with lots of project experiences – good ones and bad ones. Mr. Aguilero is a hot-shot. He is the one who did not know either cared it was impossible and did it anyway.

Raise the curtain for another round in the ring of deathmatch arguments on business, IT and all the rest…

Mr. Waterfallon

Mr. Aguilero! Nice to meet you again after all these years! Guess what: I still can not wait until agile is heading south on the hype cycle and stabilizing close to zero.
I am looking forward to us all getting back to work and get things done again!

Mr. Aguilero

Mr. Waterfallon! What a pleasure to see you again. I miss to work and debate with you, you know? Talking about the debate, what are you talking about?

We are all agile now! …and history loves to repeat as we know.

The method of war is over. Everybody I see today is agile. Even large organizations that are taking pride in ignoring any innovation and looking beyond the quarterly event horizon are now adopting agile.

We are so agile, even the definition of agile becomes agile leading to a funny infinite regression towards who cares at all!?

Mr. Waterfallon

That is Mr. Aguilero, I remember. Once you realize I have a point – you start throwing smoke grenades. I admit, agile eventually work in startups and small independent teams. But it fails to deliver in the large corporation. Adopting? Ha! The CTOs of the world just found out that it is easier to blame the business if you call them product owner. Shit hits the fan ever since.

With agile, the IT just turned the fan around!

Mr. Aguilero

Hmmm, why do I have a bad feeling about being again on the wrong side of that famous fan? However, Relax and let’s look at your statement: It works in small but not in large. Now please help me to understand what you mean.

What do you mean by works and what is the context of this?

For me, agile is just one step in the right direction to free visions from quarterly earnings.

Do you remember the five-year plans of the soviet union? The laughing stock for the free markets on the other side of the iron curtain?

Business planning of today is by far more ridiculous! Free markets? Bullshit! Take a look at the ratio of goods traded through free markets with real pricing system vs. corporate-wide internal accounting with fixed funny numbers.

I do not want to just optimize by some mere percents. I want to build new stuff! I want to generate new money! By definition, this can not be proved or planned, and because then it is already best practice or even worse, it became a commodity. Long term plans made to freeze innovation – spiced up with market research that may work for soap but not for software.

Mr. Waterfallon

Yes! This is the core question! What context are we talking about? New money is earned by new products. New products are bought by old companies as soon as there is no longer a risk. This is where agile – especially lean startup ideas kick in. Plan, build, verify, and adapt in short cycles. Build MVPs not the has-it-all-solution in the first place. This works fine for small projects. The team may be independent entrepreneurs or employees of a large corporation that protects them.

But whenever agile is sold as the solution to heal large scale project failures, I get headaches. Imagine they tried to build the Burj Khalifa using agile. This example is extreme, but the majority of IT projects and products require careful planning and architecture – you can not just leave it to an agile team making decisions on the go – while blaming the customer for delivering insufficient user stories.

Mr. Aguilero

This example painfully reminds me of Mr. Werewolf, our old boss. He overstressed civil engineering and machine scheduling as best practices for software development. Burj Khalifa is not as complicated as new software typically is. You have stories, and you have rooms. Both highly repetitive and please consider: humankind does this for some thousand years now. Burj Khalifa is an excellent cathedral, but the surrounding bazar that was required to build it was far more complex.

The user story is always the same: build many big rooms to impress all underlings. The epic story is staple stories to make the building visible from far away and impress all enemies.

However, when you take precisely the architecture example, you will see that it miserably fails when there are more complex epic stories behind. Hospitals get operation rooms that do not allow to push in beds, railway stations are big and impressive but have only one track for taxis to drop of their passengers and airports for capital cities never get finished even though those have been thoroughly planned.

Please do not get me wrong! I do not advocate no planning, I want to avoid the control illusion or cognitive bias the managerial caste sometimes suffers from when initiatives mutate into a project.

I agree that in IT and business buildings are built on top of wooden blockhouses and quite often a skyscraper is added on top of it.

Mr. Waterfallon

Sure the Burj Khalifa is just stapling rooms. That reminds me of some prepared statements I heard from a scrum coach lately who tried to manage complex IT projects with independent user stories. The complexity derives from dependencies. No method can remove the dependencies – only the architects can do that. So I agree if there is bad architecture, it doesn’t matter which project management method is used.

But hey what about that: let the architects do their homework and tell them to create great stuff with as few dependencies as possible. Then let’s develop plans that layout whom we need and when, and what needs to be done in which order to respect the remaining dependencies. And then – I almost refuse to believe me saying that – let’s use agile to manage the teams that are going to build it!

But guess who is the product owner then? Right! It’s the architect, not the customer! Or does this idea hurt your agile manifesto cortex?

Mr. Aguilero

I almost refuse to believe me saying that, too – Agreed! Just let me add – I need the last statement – this is even more important for business than IT:

The architect there is usually called Product Manager or Business Analyst. The poor guy that has to orbit at CEO level on visions and survive the pressure of the Mariana Trench of business and technical details.

However, the bravery of people willing to adequately care about the whole thing, visions, products, or solutions is something we should discuss next time. Feuding stakeholders and information overload let them shine bright as they quickly burn out.

Let us get some Gin-Gin Mules and share some gossip from our disrupted markets my old friend…

Mr. Waterfallon

I knew, at some point. You surrender to my arguments. And yes, let’s get the party started.

…to be continued…