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Q&A with Francesco Bianchi

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Francesco Bianchi, Chief Collaboration Alchemist.

How could you describe your career path in a few words? 

I have always been passionate about building complex systems. Initially for me that meant writing Software. 

I spent my first 10 years working in small nimble teams. Collaboration was at the highest levels possible. We didn't know how to work any differently than in Agile way. At the same time, we also didn't have the complexity and mass that naturally puts agility at risk. 

My first experience with a product company large enough to be considered complex happened when I decided to move abroad. Having to learn a new language made me reflect a lot on culture and how different people behave and react to the same stimulus in different ways. Contextually I had an opportunity to try my hand at revamping the role of Scrum Master in a team where it had begun just a dreadful turn of "sprint rota" where someone who had to take care of team admin.  I loved it immediately, but it took me about 4 years before I understood that where I wanted to invest all my energies was in building teams more than software. Then 2 years later I learnt that I didn't know a fragment of the amazing things that I could have and should have learnt. I loved that even more. 


How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years? 


I am not sure they have. For sure some changes have happened and will keep happening. That's just the nature of the business we are in. More: it's what the world nowadays requires from us. Change is the only constant we can count on. 

At the same time, I am not seeing anything particularly groundbreaking that has not already been around for years.  Agile is not new anymore. It has been around for 20+ years. It has been around so much that it can now be considered an adult. It has matured. When you get to that age, having a couple of years more or less start to matter less and less. Some companies have undergone massive transformations, and some have done that in the last 2 years. I don't think Agile has been the main propulsor there. Geopolitical shifts have instead caused an acceleration of trends, one of which has been companies starting to fall out of love for this thing called Agile. 

If anything, what we are all seeing is companies expelling the Agile particles that they now consider being extraneous to their organism. In all this bleak scenario, I still have absolute faith that agile principles can be an enabler for more forward-looking companies and even a life saver for companies that have waited too long before investing in change. 


What successful cases of agile transformations have you had the opportunity to observe that have particularly stood out to you? 

I echo what Geoff Watts has said here in a previous interview with you and state that I doubt I have ever heard of any truly successful Agile transformation. Many sell them, not many can document their successes beyond broad & shallow statements without enough substance to really explain what happened and how it could have been measured.

I believe the entire concept of agile transformation is not healthy and somehow doomed to fail by definition. A transformation almost has as prerequisites an initial and, most importantly, an end state. That doesn't sit well with the continuous change that Agile requires. 


I also believe that it's unsustainable for people to transform continuously. Changing requires energy. Transformations are deep changes that require massive amounts of energy. Every so often one has to stop and breathe, which means crystalizing in a given point for whatever long it takes to be ready for the next shift. Much more sustainable to look at small organic variations toward a better state. 


Will agile practices continue to generate interest? What challenges do you see in the context of deploying these practices? 


As I mentioned, we have increasing evidence that people are falling out of love with Agile. I think the main concepts are still highly relevant and people will apply them for years to come. Unfortunately, the buzzword "Agile" has been exploited by many people without adequate preparation with the aim to gain easy visibility and even easier money. Internal practitioners without formal education in the subject or enough time spent researching have self-appointed themselves as experts, confusing something that is simple for something that is easy. Unscrupulous contractors jumped on the bandwagon to earn easy money without many risks to be caught as impostors have just failed to bring to life with their clients how powerful Agile done well can be. 


But customer collaboration will not go anywhere as long things are built by humans for humans. We still can't read mind nor we can generate things automatically based on simple inputs. The advent of AI is already changing how this collaboration happens but while it will change even more dramatically in the next few years, I doubt it will go away for another decade, more likely 2. Visualization keeps being a huge topic and one I am most passionate about. Now that many have learnt how to build a simple visual vocabulary, the next step seems to be Visual Storytelling.  

Coaching is another big skill to master, increasingly so as we start to accept that workers are first of all humans before being executors of orders. I also expect that gradually people will understand that collaboration doesn't just happen but requires proper focused help of an expert professional. This is where a Collaboration Alchemist will become the ideal choice ;).

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