Exploring Context : The secret sauce of agile consulting

location_city Sydney schedule Jul 21st 03:30 - 04:30 PM place Level 4 - Room 103-105 (62) people 12 Interested

Your context shapes your present and unless you act deliberately, it will shape your future. An organisation’s context is similarly impactful on its workforce, shaping its vision, culture, practices and external relationships.

As agile consultants, we need to not be affected by an organization's context, instead we need to understand it. If we act without knowing our context, we are doomed to failure. The best way of minimising this influence is to be aware of the forces that are starting to shape our behavior.

In this talk we map an organization’s context. This process starts from when they ask for our skills all the way to the eventual outcome of our collaboration. Using real-world examples — with some filters to allow for an honest discussion — we show the events when context (both public and hidden) starts to reveal itself. We also discuss how, once the organisation’s context is known, its context can be changed.

This talk is for the consultant who wonders why some engagements are so much harder than others, for the employee trying to change an organisation from the inside who needs a new frame of reference and for those who have have that moment of awareness that context is dictating their behaviour and are looking for the next step.


Outline/Structure of the Talk

Intro (laying out the pieces) 10 mins

Lay out basic building blocks that will be built on as the talk progresses


  • Fundamental Attribute error
  • Experts, plans and context
  • The Fire Danger rating (Contextual awareness)

Consultant And context

  • Four levels of context
  • Solution, Problem, Vision, Mindset
  • Focus on Mindset

Agile/Lean and context

  • A special relationship

The Johari window

A model to show how to understand the context of your organisation.

  • Shared - Known by everyone
  • Private - Not known by outsider, known by insider
  • Blind spot - Known by outsider, Not known insider
  • Unexplored - Not known by anyone

The aim is to enlarge ‘shared’. It lets everyone act with awareness.

Exploring the context - 15 mins

Now the foundation is in place, we move to techniques that let us explore and understand where we are. Each of the below will have a real-world example of where the technique was applied successfully. How the techniques add to everyone’s understanding of context is explained.

Common themes that run between the activities are:

  • Understanding the gap (between what is said and done)
  • How failure is viewed (Vulnerability and blame)
  • How change is viewed (Fixed vs Growth )

Getting the job (What to ask before you are engaged)

  • A ‘tender’ moment
  • Show me your budget and will show you your priorities
  • What happened to my predecessors
  • The miracle question

Before the first release (Moments to really observe at the start of the engagement )

  • The first prioritisation
  • The second Prioritisation
  • Trust me I’m a consultant
  • Slower to go faster

After the first release (What to observe after the first milestone )

  • The first failure
  • Post success

We know our context - now what ? 10 mins

How do we change our context if our mindset is to fight change ?

The mapping of our client’s context allows for understanding and empathy - both of which allow for a shared journey

Be aware the context can always change, is always changing

Practices change behavior

Awareness, challenge and support allow for the change of belief

Possible models

  • Exemplar teams / projects
  • Shifting from tell to show
  • From certainty of outcome to certainty of learning
  • Deliberately Developmental Organisations

Summation/end 5 mins

The aim is for people to leave with questions rather than answers; in your organisation what are the questions that no one asks:

  • What’s the thing your organisation knows but does not acknowledge (private)
  • What's the thing that's obvious but your organisation ignores (blind spot)
  • What the thing that keeps your CEO up at night (unexplored)

Learning Outcome

After the talk the audience should:
  • respect context (it’s a powerful force!),

  • have techniques and questions to examine and understand their own context or one into which they have been thrust,

  • understand that exploring context allows for both empathy and understanding, both of which are required for any kind of change,

  • be aware of why agile/lean are context-focused methodologies,

  • have a path forward to change the context (once understood) of their own organisation.

Target Audience

consultants , Employees Trying to change thier org


schedule Submitted 4 years ago