[2019 QCon] Using Bets, Boards and Missions to inspire Org Wide Agility

Speaker: John Cuttler @johncutlefish

For other QCon blog posts, see QCon live blog table of contents

Goal: want to be a change agent and see what works. Want teams to see more impact i their work. Want to create nudges


  • People seem interested and want to try. Then there is fear and nothing happened. Then people give up.
  • Confusing own needs, continuous improvement and specific ideas
  • It’s hard for everyone.
  • Some companies are healthier than others. Range to get rid of a toxic employee is 12 months to forever
  • Companies thinking they want a magic tool or framework
  • Common Problems: Structural, culture/alignment, strategy, decision, making, revenue pressure, deal closing, feature factory, busyness high utilization, constraints
  • Angst is easy to trigger. People want certainty, impact and coherence.
  • Coherence != agreement. Coherence means understand.
  • Want flow of impactful stories
  • How know if in a feature factory: https://hackernoon.com/12-signs-youre-working-in-a-feature-factory-44a5b938d6a2

Key ideas

  • Product development is a beautiful mess
  • Efforts to simplify/standardize often backfire. If can reflect mess back, becomes a change agent. Mirrors are beautiful. Ad libs for bets: https://dazzling-allen-f0bcd2.netlify.com


  • In response to a think doing. Say “oh, well that’s an interesting bet”. Starts conversation about risk and more. Bets can be of any size and risk
  • Work ranges n 1-3 hour/day/week/month/quarter/year/decade range. Make nesting of work more visible 1-3 year bets in PowerPoint so every one sees. Everything in month or less visible in Jira. In between not visible. See if developer can map their tasks to end result in less than 2 minutes.
  • Shift words.
    • Problems/Solutions -> Opportunities/Interventions
    • Projects -> Missions
    • Experiments > Bets
    • ”Done -> Decision point or review and measurement
    • Dependency wrangling > Playing Tetris
    • Debt -> Drag
  • Checklist of what need to know. Ok to not know as long as aware. Key is for list to be a one pager
  • A letter to the future
  • Make a map of work in progress when feels high.. Show impact and why it is terrible. Safe way to talk about anxiety
  • Use a board to show what’s next, what currently focusing on and what is in review. Also includes different levels (time frame) for bets. Board covers multiple teams
  • Weekly learning users – share learning that is consumed by others in last week
  • Broadcasted learnings chart/dashboard/notebook consumed by two people in a week
  • Consumption of learnings – total reach of broadcasted learnings


  • What if org not ready? See if can do it on one project.
  • Social dynamics? First 5-10 minutes people think they will be measured and fail based on this. Showing what other companies does helps

My impression

I want a double green button to vote. This was great. It was interesting, relatable, actionable, easy to understand and can apply at many levels. So even if an org isn’t ready for all this, smaller parts can be done.

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