May 30, 2021
For the episode show notes and full interview transcript, go to www.agileinnovationleaders.com
Tolu is the Founder of Career Transitioners where he’s also a Lead Trainer (Business Analysis/Architecture and Agile).
With a keen interest in using Agile approaches to help organizations go through change, he also consults for clients and has worked on Digital Transformation programmes with Organizations within multiple sectors including Banking, Telecoms, Housing, Energy & Utilities and Transport.
Currently working towards a PhD in Education, Tolu holds a MA in Communications Management and an MSc in Organizational Behaviour and holds numerous Professional Certifications including BCS Diploma in Business Analysis, BCS Professional Certificate in Business Architecture, APMG Foundation and Practitioner Certificate in Agile PM, ScrumStudy SCT (Scrum Certified Trainer) and more.
Tolu has been happily married for 9 years and is a proud father of two daughters (ages 6 and 1).
Email/ Website/ Social Media:
Ula Ojiaku: 00:04
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 takeaways for you the listener.
Hello everyone! This episode marks the end of Season 1 of the Agile Innovation Leaders podcast. However, it’s not a final goodbye because we are already working on a new and improved Season 2 with an exciting line-up of guests. We’ll share more about this in due time. But all you need to know is that after this episode, there will be a bonus episode where I summarise Season 1 and then a brief break before we launch Season 2. Again, we’ll give you more details in due time.
My guest for this episode is Tolu Fagbola. Tolu is the founder of Career Transitioners, a training organization accredited by the BCS (that is, the British Computer Society). Tolu himself is a Lead Trainer at Career Transitioners. Tolu is also a SAFe Program Consultant and a Lean Agile professional who has worked on multiple digital transformation programmes with Organizations within multiple sectors including Banking, Telecoms, Energy & Utilities and Transport.
During this conversation, Tolu candidly shared some of the lessons he and his team learnt from a ‘failed’ programme that they were involved in many years ago. He also shared his view on the importance of leadership and organizational buy-in for a successful transformation effort.
Without further ado ladies and gentlemen, my conversation with Tolu. Enjoy!
Ula Ojiaku: 02:20
Thank you so much Tolu for making the time for this conversation today.
Tolu Fagbola: 02:23
You're welcome Ula; it’s good to be joining you today.
Ula Ojiaku: 02:27
So, could you tell us a bit about yourself, please?
Tolu Fagbola: 02:29
Sure. I have been into Agile for about 10 years, I kind of stumbled into Agile when I decided that being a trainer was not enough. So, I was and still am a training and development professional.
So, started off my career in the telecoms industry, leading companies’ operational teams, and I moved into training and development. And at a point I got scared that computers were going to come in and take my job away. So, I thought I'd better get on board, this ‘IT thing’ before I become obsolete.
So, I got into e-learning, and I got interested in e-learning development and content development. So, I got into some developing, learning management systems for organization. And the first ever learning management system I helped develop for banks went atrocious. It was the traditional waterfall approach. We had a team of developers, who were amazing at what they did but it was just horrible. We had no requirements, we had no stakeholder buy-in, we had no commitments, we just overran and the plans were just atrocious.
So, from that point on, I had to learn the hard way that Agile was a much more effective way to deploy solutions and engage in almost any kind of organizational change that involves technology.
So yeah, that's kind of how I got into Agile and since then, I've been working with Agile teams and the training on Business Analysis, and Agile. I'm a big advocate for Agile business analysis and business analysts within Agile teams, because I think they are the glue between organization strategy and the development teams. So that's been my sort of journey over the last few years.
Ula Ojiaku: 04:35
It's an interesting story, so thanks for sharing. You said you had a failed project. So, it seems like that was the tipping point for you into Agile…
Tolu Fagbola: 04:44
It was an eye opener, because there were so many reasons, the program failed.
And apart from being naive and inexperienced, and very excitable because we were focused on the product, without considering the organizational context and a cultural context, as well.
Just to give you a little bit of background, I deployed these solutions within banks in Nigeria, so I didn't consider the cultural elements of deploying or working on projects that had to do with technology.
Yeah, and I learned a lot from that experience. And I think it's made me a much more rounded Agile practitioner today.
Ula Ojiaku: 05:29
Could you tell us a bit more about what you learnt? What were the key learnings? I gather that you said there was no consideration for the cultural context…
Tolu Fagbola: 05:37
Yeah. So, more than 10 years ago now, we… when I say ‘we’, I mean myself and my team had already, sort of introduced this idea of rolling out a Learning Management System within the organization. And it was signed off and it was agreed, costings agreed, and we thought it was just going to be a matter of deploying the solution within the organization's servers and the optic will be great, and it will be all fine.
But we didn't consider things like organizational change, the fact that a lot of people within our organization were banking on, taking training on-site, in person. And moving to an e-learning model was going to be a significant cultural change to them, apart from the fact that they get to go away from the desk, sometimes they get stipends, they get lots of perks… Now, you know, moving to an approach where almost 50% of all the training that they would have had, will now be at their desks, or at home, via an electronic medium was quite a significant change from the users perspective. Also, from the…
Ula Ojiaku: 06:54
That wouldn’t have made you popular…
Tolu Fagbola: 06:57
It made perfect sense for us, it made perfect sense for the business – they were cutting a lot of cost. It made sense financially and technologically. But culturally, from a user's perspective, it really didn't go down as we imagined.
So little things like, sort of mapping out a user journey, we failed to consider, to understand what the process was for the students or candidates or employees to come to a training course, to take the course, to get feedback, to get the next course, to get to their appraisal done, and all the other impact that that one learning event will have on them. So… learnt a lot in a lot of ways.
Another thing that I think was really pertinent learning for me particularly was the impact of operating models.
Ula Ojiaku: 07:55
Tolu Fagbola: 07:56
…or the significance of operating models when going through organizational change, because that's what it was. It was a significant change for them. But it seemed like an IT project, but it wasn't an IT project, there was a business change product that leveraged IT. So, understanding the change to the organizational model, the operating model, the fact that they needed to have an administrator, the fact that they needed to have access, user control, the access rights, the fact that they needed different ways of evaluating learning, all of those things we’d totally left to the business, and they had no clue what they were to do. So now I'd have done it very, very differently.
So yeah, I’ll say I learnt a lot from that one experience. And the next program was definitely a lot smoother in the sense that, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I mean, the learnings that I needed to have, and I knew how I could sort of get my stakeholders’ buy-in from the start and sort of build stability and develop incrementally and iteratively. Have little releases quickly and get feedback very quickly and, and increase the uptake of the solution in a way that delivers value to the business and to the users. So, it was a lot different the second time around, it still had its own challenges, but yeah…
Ula Ojiaku: 09:21
Yes. I can imagine. I’ve also been involved in some less-than-ideal projects. And yes, it makes a whole lot of difference involving all the stakeholders especially the end users right from the onset, so that everyone is at the same table, because there are usually contexts that we would miss if they're not involved right from the onset.
So, is it all work for you then, Tolu? What leisure activities do you do?
Tolu Fagbola: 09:52
I do much reading these days, anything outside of my academic journals and books is… (a luxury). I probably don't have a lot of time on my hands to do much else.
So, I'll give you a little picture of my life at the moment. So, to work nine to five as a consultant, run a training business in the evenings, developing a learning management system for the commercial market - got a team working on that, and I spend pretty much all of my weekends working on my doctorate and doing a doctorate in education. So I’m in the library reading or writing a thesis or doing some research. So yeah, (I’m) pretty maxed out at the moment…
Ula Ojiaku: 10:41
I can imagine and with a lovely young daughter as well. So…
Tolu Fagbola: 10:44
I’ve got a four-year-old, she's going to be four next month, so I have to schedule time to take her to bouncy castles.
Cos she doesn't forget now. (She’s like) ‘Daddy you promised me you were gonna take me to bouncy castle tomorrow. It’s tomorrow now…’ You put in time for that.
I'm a massive sports fan and I’m into boxing. The only sport that I have time to watch right now is boxing.
Ula Ojiaku: 11:14
Yeah, interesting. My late dad also liked two sports and boxing was one of them; football was the other. But what's the attraction - because I still don't get it?
Tolu Fagbola: 11:25
Okay, so yeah, boxing. It's amazing. All you need to do is watch the next Anthony Joshua fight and you'll know what I'm talking about. When we're fighting our first live in New York Madison Square Garden, and I'm going to be there.
Ula Ojiaku: 11:40
Oh, really? Wow! That's serious then! So, no PhD thesis work…?
Tolu Fagbola: 11:45
June is my celebration month. Because it's my birthday, it’s my wife’s birthday, it’s our anniversary. So, the first couple of weeks in June is always a holiday.
Ula Ojiaku: 11:57
Tolu Fagbola: 11:57
That’s the only break we’re probably going to get through the year.
Ula Ojiaku: 11:59
Well, congratulations to you and your wife in advance. So hopefully your wife is also going with you to Madison Square.
Tolu Fagbola: 12:06
Well, I've told her that I'm going and if she would like to come…
Ula Ojiaku: 12:09
You’ve ‘told her’!!!
That doesn't sound like…
Tolu Fagbola: 12:16
She says she will, but I'm not sure she would like to, to follow through. Yeah, no, she's definitely gonna come.
Ula Ojiaku: 12:24
Okay, there was a silence before you now said, ‘I've told her…’ It reads a lot to me... Let's move swiftly on - on to other topics.
What would you say is your preferred Agile framework and why?
Tolu Fagbola: 12:39
I can't say I have a preferred Agile framework. I'm a real strong believer in adapting the style, the approach, the framework to the context.
So, depending on the organizational problem, or the problem we're trying to solve, I always look for the right approach or the right framework. I think every single Agile method out there has something to offer. And I don't think there is one method that trumps all, I don't think there is a one size fits all approach. I can tell you the approaches that I have used extensively as opposed to the one that I prefer.
So, Scrum is the one that I will say I've used extensively. I'm currently working in a Scaled Agile environment right now. SAFe - Scaled Agile Framework. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that approach. So…
Ula Ojiaku: 13:35
Yeah, I’m an SPC …yeah
Tolu Fagbola: 13:40
Oh - impressive! So, you know what I'm talking about. I'm currently working in the Scaled Agile Framework and I’m working as an Agile Coach right now, looking after a couple of Scrum teams, running the PI events and coaching the organization. That the teams are mature, but the organization itself is not very mature.
So, there's a lot of work to do on that front. So, we've adapted a little bit. It's not 100% SAFe, but mostly SAFe. We do the PI, programme increment events, we have epics features stories, and we have multiple Scrum teams. And, you know, we have system demos, we have the Agile release train… We have a lot of the elements of SAFe and it works perfectly well for organizations looking to the, you know, what it says on the tin – scale agile and use multiple teams. And it's much more effective for enterprise level approach than let's say Scrum, which is amazing for individual teams. But a lot of teams have challenges with issues from outside of the team.
So, Scrum doesn't account for a lot of issues that are, that reside outside of the team. So, I'm an advocate for SAFe, I’m an advocate for Scrum, Kanban in very volatile environments with lots of moving BAU activities. I'm an advocate for Lean. There’s a new one that I'm high on right now, it's called Flow, I’m an advocate for Flow because…
Ula Ojiaku: 15:22
Flow? Could you tell us a bit more about Flow?
Tolu Fagbola: 15:26
Yeah, well, Flow is considered post Agile, where it looks at the challenges that executives within an organization have and guides them through visualizing a lot of their business problems and challenges. And it uses a lot of design thinking processes, uses a lot of very genuine customer centric approaches, and really guides the executives upstream in a way that allows them to articulate the business problem. And the way they would like to solve those business problems very concisely, effectively, efficiently before the midstream teams; like Scrum teams, kind of pick it up and deploy.
I like what Flow is doing in terms of the very visual elements that they adopt. So yeah, I'm a big, big advocate of a lot of Agile approaches. And I think they all have something to offer. And I think the strength of a good Agile practitioner, is to know which approach that suits the right business problem, and be able to support an organization, regardless of the approach they choose to use, even if it's not Agile, or a framework within, you know, the Agile family.
Ula Ojiaku: 16:51
I agree with you, my, what, the phrase I use is that, you know, these frameworks and methodologies are really to be considered as tools in a toolbox. So you know, you pull out the one you need depending on the context of the task of the objective at hand.
So, that brings me to the next question, do you think that… So, for example, if an organization starts off with Scrum, must they stick with Scrum all through the lifecycle of a program or a project? Or is it possible to, at various stages, maybe change or even mix frameworks?
Tolu Fagbola: 17:28
I think that's a loaded question. There's lots of different elements to that question. So, I'll answer some parts of it. The part about, should organizations change their approach midway through program? I think that's a very interesting question. I'm a big advocate for being clear on how you're going to do the work. You've committed to an approach, then I believe you should follow through until it doesn't serve you anymore.
On the other hand, there is the concept of Agile being adaptable and flexible. So, organizations really should, in my opinion, be flexible and really look out what approach works best for that period, and for that particular business problem that you trying to solve.
So, I think, it almost has to be on a case by case basis. And I don't think there should be a rule that says you should or shouldn't, when it comes to Agile, because environmental context changes all the time, and organizations needs to be flexible and adaptable and nimble. And you've got to be decisive and, but also reduce or minimize the risk and minimize the chaos, and give the teams and the individuals some sort of stability from the perspective of, should I call it the cadence of the work within. Because a lot of the things that Scrum sort of advocates is that you get better and better and you get more effective, the more you get into a rhythm. So that rhythm I think is important.
So, I don't think organizations should stop and start without just cause. I do think they should be flexible and adaptable depending on the context. I don't know if I answer your question the way you'd like…
Ula Ojiaku: 19:31
No, no! It’s not about how I like, it’s about, you know, your view.
You said, organizations should be committed to following a framework or course of action until it no longer serves them. What will be the indicators, you know, that's maybe an approach is no longer serving …?
Tolu Fagbola: 19:48
For me, the biggest indicator will be size of the personnel. Let's say you were a 10-person team, and you had to double or you're doing so well, your product is selling so well, you've had to double in size. Well, you kind of need to have guardrails now, for where you could either let the team do certain things, but now you need to maybe adapt a framework, maybe you do something slightly different. I think the size is probably the biggest indicator, for me, of when you need to change.
On the other hand, significant political factors, or external factors that you have to react to that are significant, not just because our competitor is doing a little better this quarter, we’ve got to change our approach.
Ula Ojiaku: 20:40
Do you have any… what kind of (example)?
Tolu Fagbola: 20:43
Ermm, Brexit. Well, let's say, something like a political factor like Brexit, yeah. Now you've got to prove the whole new business model while you were doing something for competition locally, now you're going to do it internationally. You kinda need a slightly different approach for stuff like that. Or, you know, there's a new entry in the market and it's really sort of having an adverse effect might need to change the way you do things.
So, a significant external factor, I think, will be another indicator for me, doubling the size or significant increase in personnel will be an indicator. But reasons like new manager, I don't think should result in changing your Agile approaches, because a new manager likes Kanban, the old one likes Scrum. I don’t think that should stand in the way.
Ula Ojiaku: 21:32
That's a brilliant response to the question. I'm sure that the audience… you know, there might be people with different view points, as well as people who agree with what you say.
What would be your tips for effectively managing Agile teams?
Tolu Fagbola: 21:49
For me, I think the one thing that I've learned a lot over the last few years is being disciplined. Where Agile almost has this paradoxical effect, where it promotes flexibility and agility and being nimble. But it, on the other hand, it could potentially create a lackadaisical approach.
So, being able to kind of find that balance where you're able to be disciplined and committed to the process that you've chosen to follow. It's very easy… So little things like protect the team or only the team should speak out daily stand ups, it's so easy to let it go out of hand. It's so, so easy, where a solution architect might just decide to come in, but they can't help themselves, and they've just got to say something, then it becomes a habit, and then, it affects the morale of the team, and then the team are not empowered anymore, and then, the team starts to look to that solution architect for decisions. And all of a sudden, you've lost the whole essence of why you're doing what you're doing in the first place.
So being disciplined, I think is one of the things that I will always say should be something that a Scrum Master should have on their priority list. And it's very easy to be not disciplined, which is why I've kind of made that a point to be disciplined.
Ula Ojiaku: 23:29
How can you blend being disciplined with the notion that the Scrum Master is a servant leader?
Tolu Fagbola: 23:35
Yeah, I think that's a very interesting question. For me, the concept of servant leadership is exactly what it says on the tin: being able to support the team in a way that’s coaching rather than telling or managing. So, when you are doing that, with the team, you're being a servant leader to the team.
Now, some of the things that we do as Scrum Masters or Agile practitioners are things that we commit to outside of the team. So maybe the relationship between the Scrum Master and the Product Owner might still have that element of Scrum, of servant leadership. But also consider that the Product Owner also needs support and also needs coaching as well.
And also, not let the Scrum Master be the non-servant leader. And I've seen situations where product owners direct the team in a way that's not Agile, and kind of threw stuff into the mix, mid sprint and stuff like that. So being able to find that balance between coaching and ensuring that the team are protected as well as ensuring that the team follows the process and the organization also follows the process.
So yeah, it’s a hard thing to balance but having that at the back of your mind as an Agile practitioner, a Scrum Master is very, very important. Being able to still be a servant leader, but still be strong enough to be able to protect the team and being able to protect the team means having to have very difficult conversations with managers or executives outside of the team or having to sort of coach leaders of an organization about what the team are doing. They could be very difficult conversations but your servant leadership, in my opinion, is to the team. And to the organization it’s more of a coach, rather than a servant leader to the organization. I believe your duty to the organization is to coach the organization and help them understand what the team has committed to, and what the team are doing and how the team is doing it. But it does require some level of strength and gravitas and some level of ability to be able to get that, that ability for the team to trust you as a Scrum Master to be able to protect them.
I have seen Scrum Masters that are amazing with the team but don't have confidence that they can protect them outside of a team. The team don't have confidence that if they go to that PI meeting or go to that manager's meeting, they would not come back with 20 more tasks to do. To be able to have that balance of servant leadership and strength outside of the team I think is really, really important. And understanding the process is really important. And that's why I said discipline. So, to understand what the commitment is that you're making, that I think it really does help.
Ula Ojiaku: 26:33
It's all well and good and I totally agree with what you've said. However, in the, say… spirit of being disciplined and protecting the team and you're speaking to say, leadership. Where does leadership buy-in come in here because if they're not involved, you think you can still be as effective as an Agile coach or Scrum Master in an organization?
Tolu Fagbola: 26:56
Yeah, I think that's a very interesting question and that's always going to be a very tough question. And depending on the kind of organization it is, the level of organizational support will vary.
And for me, I believe it's really important to have organizational support. But in my experience, it isn't the norm to have organizational support right from the top. It is, in my experience, not always the case that you will have organizational support all the way to the top. It's amazing when you do.
One of the teachers that have worked for a few years ago, had Lean, they adopted Lean from top to bottom. And he would come to the boards and would be part of the teams. That was great. Everybody knew what it was, and they were committed to it. And it was very productive.
On the other hand, I can say it's not very many organizations are like that. Most organizations that I've worked with, will say they are adopting an agile approach at a sort of board level or senior management level. But what they really are doing is developing solutions using Agile teams.
So, the decisions, the program level activities are not quite Agile, except of course, they started something like SAFe. They usually still use the traditional way of work breakdown structures and project management and all of that stuff will exist. And most times Agile teams are fighting against the tide each time within their teams. They're doing great within the teams but the challenges come from outside of the team.
So yes, it's great to have organizational support but I think we’re still a way from having most organizations commit to Agile from the top all the way down to the bottom. I think most, most organizations still find difficult to let go. I think it's a word I like to use for that, and for us as Agile practitioners it’s to continue to coach and have the ability to positively influence them and help them understand that there are other Agile approaches that they can adopt, that will serve them well, strategically - at a strategic level.
Because I think that's where the challenges are, they don't realize that there are Agile approaches that work at a strategic level. For most strategic level stakeholders, Agile is for development. Agile is for teams, Agile is for downstream activities. They sort of do what they do organizationally. And you know, they've always done it that way. So that, that's the way it's always going to be.
So, it's being able to educate them a little bit and help them understand that there are other ways to do it. And it will have a positive impact on the teams that already have working in an Agile way.
Ula Ojiaku: 29:59
Interesting! So, how can the audience reach you or find out more about what you do?
Tolu Fagbola: 30:04
Yeah, e-mail is probably the best way to reach me and, once in a while, Instagram, Twitter...
Ula Ojiaku: 30:14
Ok. We will put these in the show notes. So, you said e-mail, Instagram and Twitter. What’s your e-mail address please?
Tolu Fagbola: 30:21
Ula Ojiaku: 30:29
Can you spell that please?
Tolu Fagbola: 30:30
Career as in, ‘C-A-R-E-E-R’. Transitioners as in ‘T-R-A-N-S-I-T-I-O-N-E-R-S’.com. Okay. careertransitioners.com
Ula Ojiaku: 30:46
Altogether, no spaces?
Tolu Fagbola: 30:48
Altogether, no spaces or hyphens.
Ula Ojiaku: 30:51
Tolu Fagbola: 30:55
Twitter, ctransitioners, Instagram, ctransitioners, @ctransitioners, and Facebook, careertransitioners.
Ula Ojiaku: 31:06
Okay. We'll put these in the show notes. Is there is anything you’d like to say in conclusion?
Tolu Fagbola: 31:11
Yeah, sure. The one thing I like to say is, to anybody who's looking to get into Agile is that, I believe that Agile isn't one method, framework, technique. And it definitely isn’t IT. Agile is a philosophy. Agile is a way of thinking. Agile is a way of working. And understanding what Agile is, is really important.
And to really, truly embody the Agile principles and Agile Manifesto, and understand as many tools and techniques within the Agile family as you possibly can. I always tell my students, start with Scrum, and then build on that. And yeah, you can grow from that.
Ula Ojiaku: 32:03
Great. So, the other thing is, you mentioned you run some training events. Are they public? And where can one find out your schedule?
Tolu Fagbola: 32:12
Yes. So, website http://careertransitions.com. We’ve got our courses out there. We're a BCS certified training provider as well so we run a lot of courses in Business Analysis, Scrum, Agile, BA.
I'm a big advocate of business analysis within Agile environments, and the role of BAs within Agile. I think it's really, really important to have someone a role that can bridge the gap between strategy and IT or strategy and the development team.
Ula Ojiaku: 32:47
Business analysts are very important. Definitely.
Thank you so, so much Tolu for your time. It's been a great pleasure speaking with you. Have a great rest of your day!
Tolu Fagbola: 32:58
Ula Ojiaku: 32:59
That’s all we have for now. Thanks for listening. If you liked this show, do subscribe at www.agileinnovationleaders.com. That’s agileinnovationleaders.com or your favorite podcast provider. Also share with friends and do leave a review on iTunes. This would help others find this show. I’d also love to hear from you so please drop me an email at email@example.com. Take care and God bless!