Apr 19, 2021
William Korsinah is a leader, Agile Coach, trainer, and consultant with sound commercial skills and business acumen. With experience gained from the Ministry of Defence (MOD), public and private sectors and exposure across strategy, portfolio, product and project lifecycle, from initiation to close, he has the ability to effectively promote organisational objectives to a range of audiences and inspire stakeholders.
William is the Founder and Director of Lean Icon Technology and Training Ltd, an organisation with a presence in Ghana and the UK specialising in:
Agile Project Management & Delivery
Strategy & Business Planning,
Team Formation & Development
CRM, Process Engineering
Business reports and data Insight
Training and Coaching.
Website/ Contact/ Social Media:
Hello and welcome to the Agile Innovation Leaders podcast. I’m Ula Ojiaku. On this podcast, I speak with world-class leaders and doers about themselves and a variety of topics spanning agile, lean innovation, business, leadership and much more – with actionable take-aways for you, the listener.
My guest for this episode is William Korsinah. William is the Founder and Director of Lean Icon Technology and Training, an organisation with a presence in Ghana and the UK. He is an Agile Coach, Trainer and Consultant and his motto is ‘Never stop learning because life never stops teaching’. I enjoyed speaking with William about his background (including his time with the British Army). We also touched on a few agile frameworks and his view on value delivery using the Scaled Agile Framework. Without further ado ladies and gentlemen, my conversation with William Korsinah. Enjoy!!
Thank you very much for joining us, William Korsinah. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself? Who is William Korsinah?
Thank you, Ula, for inviting me. It's an absolute pleasure for me to be on air with you. Myself, I'm a training Agile Consultant, and a Coach who's been working with organizations for the last five years.
Prior to that, I worked as a Product Director for a company based in Bristol, went on to work for One Housing as a Business Analyst and Consultant within an agile team. And I worked as a strategy analyst and I served in the army.
All these experiences I bring to the table when I'm sharing on Agile and how organizations should take on change at different stages of their transformation lifecycle.
You told me you had been in the army. Can you tell us what made you to sign up in the first place, and what was your experience?
So, when I finished Uni in Ghana, I had two options: whether to join my dad in his shipping business, or to follow my friends who were having a good time in the army. And I think youthful exuberance led me to sign on to the British Army. I look back on it as a great experience, having this passage regiments in Colchester, and all those experiences helped drive the way I approach things today. So, the Army's been a good experience. I could have joined dad in his business but I think the army was the right choice at that point in time.
And how long did you stay in the army?
For four and a half years, I served for four and a half years. Yeah.
Wow! I did have thoughts about joining the military. Because in Nigeria, I did my first degree in Nigeria, and I graduated with a degree in Electronic Engineering. And there is a mandatory paramilitary training graduates are expected to go through in Nigeria - the National Youth Service Corps.
I found out that on doing that, you know, the first few weeks of joining the Corps, you went through drills and early morning jogging and all those... I really quite enjoyed it and I thought maybe I should I join the army. But I think other things called...
But how do you think that has helped to shape you into the Lean Agile professional, that you are now.
With the army, the experiences like you talked about: waking up in the morning, being disciplined following processes. Some people might consider that as too structured. Within the structure as well, it allows you to think out of the box.
The military experience has given me a structure for some of the things I do and it gives me a wakeup call when I have to rethink about things and say okay, how would I do it differently? How would I do it in a very structured environment? How would I do it, if I didn't have limits?
So, with those experiences, I'm able to bring in diverse ways of looking at things; from a civilian perspective to a military perspective - wearing those hats. So, the experience from the army has shaped my thinking and it also helps me stay more disciplined in my approach and follow things through.
You are a SAFe Program Consultant as well, and you teach a number of the SAFe courses. So, for the benefit of the audience SAFe, is an acronym for Scaled Agile Framework, which is one of the well-known and popularly implemented agile frameworks.
Now, in terms of delivering value with the Scaled Agile Framework, what are your views on this and how are enterprises and organizations potentially in a position to benefit from this?
As we look at today's organizations and being able to deliver change that brings value not only to the organization, but to the customer, there are various tools, and there are various methodologies and there are various processes. Looking at all these and seeing which one best fits into our organization.
Over the years most organizations have worked with waterfall or predictive approach to delivering projects. In delivering projects, you need to have a look at what's the best tool. You can't use a hammer to screw a nail into a wood; you need to use the hammer to hammer the nail into the wood.
And when we look at the Scaled Agile Framework, for large scale organizations that are delivering change, with system engineers, and various roles involved, we need to reconsider what tool works best. There's Agile: Scrum, there's XP, there's Kanban, There’s DSDM. All are great for small teams.
What is XP in full? What's DSDM - because there might be people listening who are new to these agile concepts, please?
XP is Extreme Programming. Extreme Programming are practices that software engineers or systems engineers use to bring in better quality into the process.
There are some practices like pair programming, where two people sit together and review their work and make sure that they are bringing in the best quality into that particular work.
There are also items like test first, where we continuously test throughout the process. And then some other areas like using user story mapping, pre planning, iterations. All these practices help bring better quality into the process.
When you talk about DSDM, Dynamic Systems Development Methodology as an agile framework, it's now known as the Agile Business Consortium. And they also have a systematic approach to helping teams deliver value. You first look at the feasibility plan; when it comes to delivering the work, you're also looking at iterations, how you go through the step-by-step approach, to be able to deliver an outcome to your customer and being able to invite the customer at various stages to be a part of the review process.
DSDM incorporates elements of iterative ways of working. This helps agile teams to deliver value to their customers or organizations. And I've touched on Kanban, Kanban is a way of working that existed in the 1950s and 60s used by Toyota Production System. And the word Kanban is a visualization board or signboard in Japanese. Teams use the Kanban board or the scrum board to help them visualize the flow of work. And it helps teams reduce multitasking, so that people can focus on a piece of work at one point in time.
All these practices have been considered by the Scaled Agile Framework. And it's like, you look at all the practices and bring in the best into one framework for large teams. And that is the way organizations can use the Scaled Agile Framework to deliver value to the customer, the organization and to the board.
Before I interrupted, you were talking about using the right tool for the right work.
So, could you explain how SAFe could be the right tool and in what context this would be the case?
Okay, so if you look at the Scaled Agile Framework, organizations that are delivering change would have… change which would affect software, they will have change which will just be people change. And they would have strategic change, and all other forms of change.
The Scaled Agile Framework has got four configurations that allow organizations to rethink their initiatives and at the portfolio configuration, that is where all the strategic initiatives are held, so that teams can deliver value by first seeing it from a high level.
And then you've got large scale for large teams who are building cyber physical systems. And then you've got the programme layer and a team layer. All these help teams to work together. It (i.e. the Scaled Agile Framework) being a tool, works best for teams that are bigger than, I would say more than 100. They need to reconsider what tool they are using. In using it for smaller teams of 10, there are elements of the Scaled Agile Framework that can be used for a small team of 10. But scaling it up, when you've got 100 to 200, Scaled Agile helps teams get the alignment and synchronization throughout the process and that's a key driver for predictability in teams to senior stakeholders.
Hence, the SAFe framework is a better tool to be used when working with large teams. And some bits of it can be adjusted for small teams when delivering change.
That's interesting. Now you said based on the various configuration. So, at the team level, there are some schools of thought that it's not much different from Scrum as we know it, implemented with Kanban. What's your view on this?
At the team level, Scaled Agile uses Scrum. Scrum as a framework, I would say unless the Agile Coach has considered all the other frameworks and adopted Scrum properly, they would miss out on looking at a framework that brings synergy.
When you take a look at the Scaled Agile Framework at a team level, the chart provides you with all the bits that are needed to make the team level work. If you are working on a particular piece of work, let's take it outside of Scaled Agile, let's take it outside of software.
If you wanted to build a small piece of table you need to bring all the resources together. And when you bring all the resources together, at that particular point in time, you're able to select and pick which one is best. But if you are working against time, and you've not got all the resources together, you might delay or you might not accomplish it.
The Scaled Agile Framework at a team level makes sure that you take a look at all the necessary frameworks that would make the team a successful team. Having teams alone, becoming high performing teams requires you to rethink about the entire process. Not only does it touch on culture, but bringing in the right tools or systems and making sure that teams believe in where they're going. And I in my view, see the Scaled Agile Framework as one that brings things to light, whether at the portfolio, programme and at the team level and the team will now feel a big part of what's happening.
Not only would they feel like, “Oh, I'm a software engineer, or I'm a UX or business analyst, I'm doing this to help or to get my career up”. But all the practices within the team level brings everyone together to deliver value to the organization.
So, for the audience’s benefit – because some people listening might not be that familiar with the Scaled Agile Framework, I will be putting a link to the diagram you were referring to in the show notes.
You mentioned that there's a portfolio level at the top and then at the bottom, (of) the configuration diagram, there's the team level.
Now, there have been arguments that SAFe advocates for top-down approach in terms of implementing it and others arguing that a bottom up approach - implementing SAFe from a team level and then building up on an incremental basis would be better. What's your view?
So, this (is) one question that I've been looking at for the last few months and I've had a few people ask me.
Quite recently, a friend was delivering a speech at a conference and someone said, “If we are not having the right purpose, it’s because the leaders don't know where they're going and they’ve not set a clear vision, they’ve not set a clear value, and a clear mission.”
So, when you approach change from a team level, and the senior stakeholders have not bought into it, it brings us back to the same point: Who's going to sign the budget? Who's going to approve the work that you're working on? Who's going to make sure that you don't get all the obstacles or impediments that are in your way removed?
So, (implementing SAFe solely) from a team level (it) is great; the team will have to celebrate all the success. But from a portfolio, director or C-level - which I am highly in favor of - that we first trained our leaders to understand the framework and I've delivered such training and leaders have found it useful that, “if we had known this, we would have sung the same song with the teams and we would have known their pain points, and we would have helped them in the right direction.”
So, having the right alignment with our purpose, with our mission; with our values requires the leaders buying into any framework. If we take SAFe out of the question, whatever we do within the organization, without a leadership buy-in being incorporated in our strategic initiative, that initiative would, in my words, fail. Though we can have the best intentions, if you don't have leadership buy-in and support, it’s like going round in the maze, and not getting out.
My view for those who are saying, “it should be from the team level” is, “yes, we want team buy-in but we want people with direction-setting responsibilities buy in earliest, so they can incorporate it in their agenda.” It won't be the team's agenda that drives value or drives the strategic benefits. It’s the organization's agenda, working together with all other teams like marketing, finance, operations. When you get all of us working together, that delivers value to the organization. And I look at it from the Japanese word “Gemba” The Japanese word “Gemba” says go out to the workplace and see what's happening in the workplace. And the workplace is not just an agile team, or the team that's using Scrum. It consists of HR, consists of all other teams. And if we only say we are going use only Scrum in our team, what about HR? Could they also use their own framework? And leadership buy-in is very necessary. And I think it’s the best approach for getting things done. What are your thoughts on it yourself?
So, I would agree with you. I would say that it's not a one-size-fits-all framework.
So, some organizations might feel it doesn't work for them. SAFe lends itself to a top-down approach; getting the buy-in of leadership. As you rightly pointed out, without that alignment with strategy and the direction of the organization, the teams could well be wasting their efforts working on the wrong things, even if they're working well together. But that defeats the whole purpose of the organization's existence.
With respect to delivering value then, from whose perspective should we define value and how can we go about making sure we are delivering value using the Scaled Agile Framework?
Okay. Deliver value within such large initiatives. First, we’re looking at our vision, mission getting into alignment. Once we get an alignment, and we know who our customers are - we could have two groups of customers, our internal customers and our external customers, they need to see the value coming their way. And for us to be able to get to that end point of delivering value, our systems must work. And our systems must be able to help us with that consistency, and precision and reliability to deliver that value.
In the Scaled Agile Framework, it also talks about value stream mapping. If you don't know your value stream, you don't know whom you're delivering the value to. So being able to knuckle down, reflect on who receives the value. Who should we be thinking about? Everyone sees the customer. Everyone talks about the customer. Richard Branson comes from talks about this from a different perspective. He says, “look after your staff, and then your staff will look after your customer.” And I think another quote also says the customer is the boss.
So, whether we take the customer being an internal person or an external person, we want to know what value is to the customer. If we know what value is to that particular customer, that value must also align with our strategic direction, our systems, and how we intend to deliver it through our teams. A customer's value, which is far and above our organization, would always mean we feel (defer) to the customer.
So, we need to be able to identify what our current value stream is? What type of value we are delivering to our customers? And sharing those particular values to the customer so that they know what our expectations are and we also know their expectations because (if we have) a customer with a high expectation, and we (come) with a medium expectation, we’ve missed the mark. Putting in place an alignment from vision, having the right systems and having the teams knowing our value stream - well, the end outcome should be to the customer (‘s benefit). That helps anyone to use the Scaled Agile Framework.
Back to your question of teams driving change.
We need teams at that layer to be able to know what system they are working in, how the system is aligned to our strategic team. And, as they knew the direction, they are able to also identify the value needed to be delivered to the customer.
Okay. You mentioned earlier on in our conversation that you’d done some work with some organizations. Could you give me an example of how you went about working with these organizations to define what the value was, and how you went about delivering it and how you recognized if and when the value had been delivered?
Okay, so Hodge Bank based in Cardiff on their Agile Transformation journey, and for them, why I throw them an example is, they started with a pilot of an agile team. They are now at the place where they've got 8 teams and they are looking at using the Scaled Agile Framework. And I like to give credit to, I'll say, the director of projects, who's done a very good work. And it's quite interesting, but (they) took a step-by-step approach in saying, “we need to deliver value but how should this value be connected in our ways of working?”
And for them, I talked about using the Balanced Business Scorecard as a strategic tool to help us identify our value. The Balanced Business Scorecard as a strategic tool has got areas of the mission, vision, talks about the strategy. As part of the strategy, we've got objectives; we need to set clear objectives. When we set clear objectives, we are able to identify whom our customers are.
With our objectives, we can identify critical success factors, key performance indicators, and initiatives that helps us deliver value. SAFe has brought in the portfolio canvas. Portfolio canvas does the same thing of identifying our current organizational system, how various things fit in to help us deliver value and it's similar to the Business Model Canvas used by most organizations and when you use such a tool, it can help you identify value.
Using the Balanced Business Scorecard at Hodge Bank has helped the team look at their… relook at their strategy, put things in place that will help them deliver value to the customer. Yeah.
In terms of your experience with Hodge Bank, what would you say you learned from the whole engagement? What are the key learnings for you?
One of the key learnings for me was: change, it's not overnight. Secondly, building the teams requires time and training. Thirdly, having a clear alignment with where the organization is going, and bringing all the other executives on board.
I've had to train a few members of the teams and training them gives me the opportunity to listen to what's happening in their organization. And Justin, who's the Director of Strategy takes a very focused look at how he could create an environment that makes the teams become high performing teams. And I think those learnings I've reflected on and have been part of some of the things I teach other teams to be able to adopt the frameworks they are working on.
Hmmm – interesting! So, for, say, a listener who is part of an organization that's currently considering the option of starting an agile transformation, how should they start? What would be their first few steps?
So, for organizations who are going through the point where they see it as a need to move from where they are, to where they want to be, is first to carry out the gap analysis of “who we are (and) what's our current state?” Or, “what's our current state and where do we really want to be?” and then build a roadmap of steps that will get you there.
When using the Scaled Agile Framework it’s quite interesting how the Scaled Agile Framework has also talked about adopting change at the various stages to where you get your first planning event. It talks about having a clear vision, once you have that clear vision, you train your consultants, you train your leaders, and then you train the various teams and members of the teams to have that single voice. If everyone can sing the same song or say the same words, and we all can understand ourselves, then we are able to take the next steps to help us deliver the necessary change.
First, identify where you want to go. Secondly, train all the team members. Thirdly, bring the leaders on board as early as possible. Without they (the leaders) supporting and helping you drive that change, that will be another project that’s failed. And at the Project Management Institute where I was Director of Communication, we've seen, we've carried out lots of surveys and seen over and over again, why projects fail. Projects fail for many reasons. It's not the adoption of a tool or process. It's the fact that one, leaders have not been brought in, there is not a clear roadmap. There's not a strong vision that brings people to that particular roadmap and aligns all the teams to believe in that change. And without having that clear vision, purpose, to bring people on board, such change initiatives do not last and do not bring value to the organization.
That's great. So basically, it's more about having a vision and clear direction of where they want to get to and what the milestones would be to your ideal state.
If you don't have a clear direction, anywhere could be your destination. And that's very important. You have a clear direction. It needs a roadmap for it to be a success.
Given your varied background, how did you get into this Lean-Agile area (of work)?
Going into this area, having studied Psychology and Philosophy, been into the army, there are other things I said I want to be when I grew up. I want to be a Trainer or want to be a Coach.
Over the years, my experiences has formed all those thoughts. Now, I'll say, it's been credit to the mates whom I’ve come across during my journeys, and the coaches who I've worked with, through the journey, and being able to learn from their experiences on what's happening, and where career-wise things are going, that helped me re-adapt my roadmap at various stages.
So, having that clear roadmap, adapting it, being flexible to changes and to getting into effect, left the army, was lucky enough to get a role into the Housing Association - after being a salesman and taking a few other roles, I got into a Housing Association. Luckily, I was made a team leader. And during that roadmap, I've always wanted to go into change. So, an opportunity came and I went to work with a transformation team. Working with the transformation team, and having my roadmap made me identify the key things I wanted to do.
Then I was also into public speaking, the president of a club, helping form a club. So, the training aspect came out of the public speaking and working in transformation and change, seeing lean, agile, seeing the way people are doing things, and how things could be improved - those are the things that led me to coming back to look at my vision of helping people go through better change.
And I think all this, there's a lot of things that have shaped me in getting to this point, not just one activity or… Not climbing the ladder - sometimes I’ve fallen off the ladder.
Haven’t we all…
Yeah, yeah. So, it's been a result of many events, that shaped my learnings into becoming a Consultant and an Agile Coach today.
That’s interesting. So, you are the Director and Co-Founder of Lean Icon Technology UK and Ghana, and some of the things you've described, you also offer those services as well as public trainings to individuals and organizations, right?
Now what’s your typical workday like?
Typical workday is… interesting, because it starts as early as it can. And it could finish very late, after put my son to bed, (I’d) still be working till the morning and wake up either early or late to continue. That is a typical wake day in the office. If I'm not in the office, I'm either on a client site, and that's also either delivering training or supporting a team.
So, it's such a varied day, and I always say it’s interesting, and even though I have a a Kanban board I always look at, sometimes I come back and I've missed certain activities. And this is the life of a business owner or an entrepreneur. You don't know how you put the puzzle together, but things work together to make things a success.
Well for me, in addition to having a Kanban, you know - what’s the backlog of items, what's in progress, what's been done - using the 80/20 rule, you know, the Pareto principle, focusing on the 20% of those activities that would give you typically 80% of your results.
And I'm actually currently listening to an audio book, The One-Page Marketing Plan which gave me a new concept. So, taking the 80/20, out of that 20(%), there will also be a 20%, that will give you another, you know, kind of so if you take 20% of that 20%, that's 4%, that will give you the 64% outcome. So, (it’s) more of narrowing down and focusing on the activities that give you the most desired outcomes, if that makes sense?
Part of the puzzle now is, how to know which ones, especially for entrepreneurs and business owners like us, you know, it's almost like there is a part of it, that's trial and error, as well as following a structured framework. How have you gone about trying to identify which parts of your daily activities are most worthwhile or are of higher priority than others?
What you’ve said, is something that I've seen in many (books): The (7) Habits of Highly Successful People; How To Have An Effective Day; Driving Change… And for myself, I look at activities and tell myself, “look, you've got all this to do.” And I tried to write them before I go to bed. So, I have a clear and sound sleep. And when I write them, before I go to bed, I come out and say, “look, I'm not going to touch a few things now, I'm going to touch a few things later.” Once I touch the things that are very relevant to me, which are considered to be the 20, then I can also focus on the 80 of what I need to do.
In looking at some (tasks), you just know that you have to delegate - some of them are out of your remit. And one that is always out of my remit – and it really gets to me that I'm unable to do that - is being able to design and create beautiful poster diagrams, and I have to outsource this and pay for it, which sometimes eats into the entrepreneur’s budget. So, there are things that you really want to do to help the business grow, and there are things that you also have to outsource.
Writing my agenda before going to bed, and identifying things that I have to outsource helps me work around the busy schedule. And not everything you can do, not everything you can put into the 20, somethings you could put into the 20, but are out of your remit. That's been one of the few things I also find challenging - delegating, or trying something new, because they say if you never tried, you don't succeed. But if you try as well, and it's not the best outcome, you're not meeting your customer’s needs. I think is always a balancing act, getting to that point. Yeah. And the 80/20 definitely works if you can identify your highest priorities, work on those first, and then look at the others later.
That's great. I smiled when you mentioned creating attractive posters and all that. I'll give you a simple tip. If you want to have a go at creating posters and all, there's this tool called Canva.
I’m using Canva.
Oh, you are! Okay. You are already ahead of the game. Yeah, it's made things a bit easier. But then there are times when you need to just call in the professionals. So, for the designers out there, we're not trying to take your job away or anything. We're saying there's still a need for you.
Great, it's been wonderful speaking with you, William. So, before we sign out and I have learned a whole lot really speaking with you. It's worth mentioning that you're the one who trained me, when I took the Leading SAFe course. And of course, I wouldn't have been inviting you to the podcast if not that you really made a great impression on me. You were knowledgeable, you were clear in the way you really handled the class and answered our questions. So, thanks for that.
But before we sign out, how can they (the audience) get in touch with you?
I think first, they are listening to my voice …they should always should reach out to Ula…
…at Mezahab Group and I'm on LinkedIn, I'm on Twitter, and I'm on Facebook at William Korsinah…
… and on other platforms. I know Ula will be adding it to the podcast as something for people to look at.
Yes, I will.
I will definitely welcome any questions that anyone would like to post or send my way. Thank you Ula for inviting me, though.
No problem at all. Thank you so much, William. And I hope you have a good rest of your day. And thanks once more.
Same to you.
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