ALI2019 Keynote Interview – Geoff Watts

With Agile-Lean Ireland 2019 only a few short months away, we had a chat with one of our keynote speakers, Geoff Watts, to find out his thoughts on topics ranging from the future of Scrum Mastery, the Product Owner as a “RAT” catcher, scaling Agile, and more…


ALI: Can you tell us a little about your journey towards becoming an Agile Coach?

Geoff: I was actually on my pathway to coaching before I was on my agile pathway. I was on the leadership coaching development programme at BT as a graduate and was studying for a Postgraduate qualification in coaching before I was even a ScrumMaster. I think that’s why, when I came across the role, it spoke to me so loudly because it fit my “coachy” view of leadership and management.

ALI: From the organizations you’ve worked with, what have been some of the most common challenges associated with Agile transformations?

Geoff: While all organisations are different, in many ways they are all the same. The main challenges are attachment to the ways of working that have helped them be successful in the past, a fear of the new and unknown, and a hard-coded desire for certainty. People in general would prefer certainty over almost anything, including being correct or even pain-free! So opening up ourselves to uncertainty is a scary concept.

ALI: From your of your recent talks, you used the memorable acronym, “RAT” catcher, to describe how a Product Owner can move from being a good PO to being a great PO – can you elaborate on what RAT stands for, and means?

Geoff: RAT stands for the riskiest assumption to test and is a different way of looking at the benefits of adopting an iterative, incremental approach. The typical TLA (three letter acronym) that people associate with agile is MVP – or minimum viable product – which is “glass half full” kind of thinking. What I mean by that is you can use an agile approach to get some value out to the market quickly then build on it. This is great but another way of looking at it from a product development effort is to find out how your product might fail as quickly as possible. If you take any statistics about innovation then the number of unsuccessful ideas compared to the number of successful ideas is generally weighted towards “failure”.

Therefore if you can reduce the cost of those failures then that’s got to be a good thing. So great product owners typically focus on catching the RAT’s as much if not more than finding the MVP.

ALI: We see a trend in the community in Dublin from Scrum Masters to take more advanced certification, or deeper dive into Agile Coaching. Where do you see the Scrum Master role evolving to in 5 years time?

Geoff: It’s not that I see the Scrum Master role evolving as such but rather becoming the role that it always should have been. The ScrumMaster was always intended to be a coaching role, someone who would help transform a team and an organisation without any authority and coaching skills are a must for that to be the case. Until recently the focus on the role has largely been on team and process but thankfully the professional coaching side of the role has been given a much greater focus.

ALI: How do you see the role of a leader operating in the middle management layer of an organization aspiring to become agile? Could you give us any examples from leaders who you worked with, who went from good to great working at this level of the organization?

Geoff: Leadership is a behaviour not a role and so everyone in an organisation has the opportunity and the responsibility to lead in alignment with the values of the organisation. “Middle management” is an interesting term because it’s a fuzzy term. I’m not sure if people know where “middle management” begins and ends. Regardless of the level of management, providing leadership within an organisation aspiring to become agile is a great opportunity and this can come from anyone anywhere within an organisation. I have seen people come positions of “junior tester”, “team lead”, “QA engineer”, “HR manager” and many others emerge as leaders simply because of their capabilities and values being in line with the culture that the organisation is developing.

ALI: There’s lots of talk now around scaled Agile frameworks such as SAFe, Nexus, LESS, etc. with mixed results. How do you approach the challenge of scaling this way of working?

Geoff: Personally I don’t like any of the scaling frameworks that are currently out there because I see them as effectively attempting to implement agile in a mechanical, waterfall way. Personally I prefer a much more organic approach where people within the organisation are given the tools to assess the context and adopt an appropriate approach to their work based on the context. I also don’t buy into the term “agile transformation” because this, to me implies there is an “end state” or “finish line” when, in reality an organisation needs to become comfortable with continual inspection and adaptation.

ALI: What can our attendees expect to hear from your talk at ALI2019?

Geoff: You can expect me to talk about the early results of my work with Andrea Tomasini and Dave Snowden’s approach of ORGANIC agility – where we have taken this organic approach to inspecting and adapting the culture of an organisation to be more context sensitive, helping develop the situational awareness and resilience of an organisation and its people. I will share the idea and the principles behind it plus some ways that you could get started down that path if it is indeed of interest to you.

ALI: What are you most looking forward to about coming to Agile-Lean Ireland 2019 in Dublin?

Geoff: 2 things. Firstly I love the city. It’s one of my favourites…the music, the people, the energy…and secondly the lineup of keynote speakers you have is exciting me because I’m looking to learn.


Geoff will be one of our keynote speakers at Agile-Lean Ireland 2019 at Croke Park, Dublin, on April 25-26th 2019. Don’t miss you chance to see him by getting your tickets now.