Agile Project Management



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We are hearing more and more about Agile Project Management in the news. This is because Agile (and Scrum, one of the methods used) is suitable for any organisation that faces important and strategic product development and IT projects, with tight deadlines in ever more competitive markets. Scrum is an approach that enables the delivery of products that are fit for purpose and operational more quickly, via an iterative and incremental approach and teamwork which is facilitated by a constant dialogue between users and developers.

Success in an Agile project is about managing the outputs of teamwork, and not just the inputs. Together with the customer as a partner throughout the life cycle, who qualifies, prioritises tests and validates the requirements, the team takes responsibility for the results. The benefits are frequent deliveries of the most important outputs that are developed iteratively as prototypes and versions.

Project success with Agile methods requites tight cooperation between the stakeholders, articulated by roles such as Sponsor, Product Owner, Visionary, Technical Coordinator and Scrum Master, as well as a team empowered and equipped to make decisions.

Agile is a public domain user centred 'design to time' approach to developing business systems, which relies on a team-based, business oriented and iterative process. It enables Agile development, using Scrum; XP and other approaches that are based on tests, risk management and version management, with governance, roles, products and principles.

Based on eight principles, Agile covers the entire product or systems development life cycle and is supported by all the necessary technical and quality controls:

  • Focus on the business need - Manage a business "baseline" to guarantee alignment and integrity of the solution
  • Deliver on Time - Manage an evolving scope in order to create rapidly useful and usable versions
  • Collaborate - Synchronise progress and achieve synergy across functional and organizational boundaries
  • Never compromise quality - Define and align compliance, acceptance and operational criteria
  • Build incrementally from firm foundations - Elaborate a realistic solution that is validated, verified and pragmatic
  • Develop iteratively - Develop in small steps, in modular fashion and maintain the ability to adapt, change, re-focus and pivot
  • Communicate constantly - Ensure that communication between stakeholders supports and reinforces the project
  • Demonstrate control - Show evidence of the management of traceability, reversibility and adequate governance

The users of Agile methods can now be found in every industrial sector. Thanks to its governance structure and its focus on prototyping around user needs that are understood progressively and aligned with the business goals and benefits, the Agile approach is as well suited to product development and it is to software development.

Virak proposes a training for the PMI® Agile Certified Practitioner

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Shackleton's Way



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"Shackleton's Way" is a fascinating and practical case study of a leader who triumphed by putting people first and striving for the seemingly impossible.

"Twenty-eight ordinary-turned-extraordinary men", led by Shackleton's example, survived nearly two years of unimaginable hardship at the end of the Earth. It is an inspirational tale about finding strengths in individuals that they never knew they had in order to achieve goals.

This story of exploration and leadership theme incorporates exercises, group and class discussions plus case studies on: Leadership, Team Building, Communication, Decision Making, Conflict resolution, and Motivational Techniques, EQ, etc. It can of course be adapted to your specific needs.

It is a multi media, highly interactive and appealing seminar that is offered from 30/60/ 90 minutes talks to a two day interactive program depending on needs. Approved historic film and pictures are shown along with clips of a recent motion picture on the story. It has been run for business luncheon groups, teams, hotels, travel agency, airlines, sales conferences, motivational experiences, management teams, CEOs and Managers, and even MBA classes. It provides a solid learning experience that will result in leadership skills application in the work place. We parallel the lessons from the Shackleton expedition with business today - the human dimensions have not changed!

    Stages of the journey of the ship "Endurance"
  • The Path to Leadership
  • Developing Leadership Skills
  • Hiring an outstanding crew

Shackleton resonates with executives in today's business world. His people-centred approach to leadership can be a guide for anyone in a position of authority. Being a leader means developing yourself. You need to be strong and resourceful in order to make the journey, as the destination is never actually reached. As you become a leader, you find resources in yourself you did not know you had. You work your way into the forefront of a new field. You become more yourself, because a leader's influence comes from who you are, what you do, and the examples you set.

  • Creating a Spirit of camaraderie
  • Getting the best from each individual
  • Leading effectively in a crisis / crisis management

A leader inspires others, many diverse groups, in order to lead effectively in good and bad times. Building esprit de corps and leading by example in order to get the most from each individual and developing them at the same time. Leadership also develops oneself in areas of communication, understanding others, appreciating differences and gaining from them, developing rapport with your people and influencing others. Sir Ernest Shackleton led by example and used informal one-on -one talks to build a bond with his man. He inspired optimism, and at same time worked to keep spirits high in the team, especially in times of crisis.

  • Forming team for tough assignments
  • Overcoming obstacles to reach a goal
  • Leaving a legacy

Shackleton balanced talent and expertise in each team. He ensured all the groups were keeping pace. He was visible and vigilant. He kept sight of the big picture, and leaders need to look towards the destinations as well as paying attention to where they have been and where they are, to ensure all the group are keeping pace. He got the teams to help each other and built up the weakest links. Leaders must understand the system they are part of, to see beyond the obvious, the immediate situation and then sense how events connect to deeper patterns. Ultimately your leadership should have a lifelong impact of the people you work with.

With Richard Coles - Training & Development Consultant, Management Trainer, Facilitator, and Presenter In 2001, Richard Coles was known as one of the first trainers in the world, if not the first trainer in some regions to bring the leadership story of Sir Ernest Shackleton to the corporate business world. He has taken it around the world in many formats. Now it is in Europe as he is located here.


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FOOD - Common cross-cultural differences



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Table manners and expectations around the world can vary as widely as the types of food that people eat. For example, what's acceptable in one culture might offend someone from another, and a delicacy in one country could be frowned upon elsewhere. This diversity is part of what makes living, working and travelling abroad so interesting. However, it also presents a number of challenges. Below are some examples of food faux pas that might cause offence:

In Australia, a lot of relationship-building takes place in local pubs after work. Missing your turn to "shout for a round," or pay for drinks, will make a bad impression.

In Japan, teams often strengthen relationships with drinks and karaoke at the end of the day.

In France, you'll make a good impression by being enthusiastic about the food being served. Enjoy your meal, be vocal about it, and then talk about business. In Germany, on the other hand, it's common to discuss work before you eat.

India is home to Hindus, who don't eat beef, and Muslims, who don't eat pork. Both of these groups expect you to handle food with your right hand only, as the left is considered "unclean."

In Italy, it's common to be invited to a late dinner, which it's considered rude to decline.

In some countries, including Israel, people may only be permitted to consume kosher foods that conform to Jewish food law, or "kashrut."

Food is central to Malaysian culture; the common greeting "chiah pa bue" literally translates as "have you eaten?" However, a dinner invitation here might be slow to come. Show patience and wait, and avoid hosting your own meal until you've been a guest at someone else's.

Alcohol is an important part of relationship building in many cultures, especially in Russia and South Korea. Here, you'll strengthen your reputation and impress your colleagues by "holding your own," but avoid drinking more than you feel comfortable with! Alcohol is only served in restaurants in countries like the United Arab Emirates, and it is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

The quality of food also matters in many cultures. In Spain, for example, knowledge of gourmet food is often expected. You'll impress your colleagues by inviting them to an excellent restaurant, and by holding informed conversations about food and wine. However, in the United States and the United Kingdom, food is often less important, and many professionals eat lunch at their desks.

Virak provides a whole one-day training on working in a cross-cultral environment


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Breathe. Exhale. Repeat: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing



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An article from New York Times By LESLEY ALDERMAN NOV. 9, 2016

Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four times.

Congratulations. You've just calmed your nervous system.

Controlled breathing, like what you just practised, has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.

Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real. Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder. "Breathing is massively practical," says Belisa Vranich, a psychologist and author of the book "Breathe," to be published in December. "It's meditation for people who can't meditate."

How controlled breathing may promote healing remains a source of scientific study. One theory is that controlled breathing can change the response of the body's autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious processes such as heart rate and digestion as well as the body's stress response, says Dr. Richard Brown, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of "The Healing Power of the Breath." Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol.

Many maladies, such as anxiety and depression, are aggravated or triggered by stress. "I have seen patients transformed by adopting regular breathing practices," says Dr. Brown, who has a private practice in Manhattan and teaches breathing workshops around the world.

When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response, said Dr. Brown. When you take shallow rapid breaths or hold your breath, the sympathetic response is activated. "If you breathe correctly, your mind will calm down," said Dr. Patricia Gerbarg, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and Dr. Brown's co-author Dr. Chris Streeter, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University, recently completed a small study in which she measured the effect of daily yoga and breathing on people with diagnoses of major depressive disorder.

After 12 weeks of daily yoga and coherent breathing, the subjects' depressive symptoms significantly decreased and their levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a brain chemical that has calming and anti-anxiety effects, had increased. The research was presented in May at the International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health in Las Vegas. While the study was small and lacked a control group, Dr. Streeter and her colleagues are planning a randomised controlled trial to further test the intervention.

"The findings were exciting," she said. "They show that a behavioural intervention can have effects of similar magnitude as an antidepressant." Controlled breathing may also affect the immune system. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina divided a group of 20 healthy adults into two groups. One group was instructed to do two sets of 10-minute breathing exercises, while the other group was told to read a text of their choice for 20 minutes. The subjects' saliva was tested at various intervals during the exercise. The researchers found that the breathing exercise group's saliva had significantly lower levels of three cytokines that are associated with inflammation and stress. The findings were published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in August.

Here are three basic breathing exercises to try on your own.

Coherent Breathing

If you have the time to learn only one technique, this is the one to try. In coherent breathing, the goal is to breathe at a rate of five breaths per minute, which generally translates into inhaling and exhaling to the count of six. If you have never practised breathing exercises before, you may have to work up to this practice slowly, starting with inhaling and exhaling to the count of three and working your way up to six.

1. Sitting upright or lying down, place your hands on your belly.
2. Slowly breathe in, expanding your belly, to the count of five.
3. Pause.
4. Slowly breathe out to the count of six.
5. Work your way up to practising this pattern for 10 to 20 minutes a day.

Stress Relief

When your mind is racing or you feel keyed up, try Rock and Roll breathing, which has the added benefit of strengthening your core. 1. Sit up straight on the floor or the edge of a chair.
2. Place your hands on your belly.
3. As you inhale, lean forward and expand your belly.
4. As you exhale, squeeze the breath out and curl forward while leaning backward; exhale until you're completely empty of breath.
5. Repeat 20 times.

Energizing HA Breath

When the mid-afternoon slump hits, stand up and do some quick breath-work to wake up your mind and body. 1. Stand up tall, elbows bent, palms facing up.
2. As you inhale, draw your elbows back behind you, palms continuing to face up.
3. Then exhale quickly, thrusting your palms forward and turning them downward, while saying "Ha" out loud.
4. Repeat quickly 10 to 15 times.


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Having Difficult Conversations



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There are dozens of books on the topic of difficult, crucial, challenging, important kinds of conversations. Those times when you know you should talk to someone, but you don't. Maybe you've tried before and it went badly. Or maybe you fear that talking will only make the situation worse. Still, there's a feeling of being stuck, and you'd like to free up that stuck energy for more useful purposes.

What you have here is a brief synopsis of best practice strategies: a checklist of action items to think about before going into the conversation; some useful concepts to practice during the conversation; and some tips and suggestions to help you're energy stay focused and flowing, including possible conversational openings.

You'll notice one key theme throughout: you have more power than you think.

Working on yourself: How to prepare for the conversation

Before going into the conversation, ask yourself some questions:
1. What is your purpose for having the conversation? What do you hope to accomplish? What would be an ideal outcome?

You may think you have honorable goals, like educating an employee or increasing connection with your teen, only to notice that your language is excessively critical or condescending. You think you want to support, but you end up punishing. Some purposes are more useful than others. Work on yourself so that you enter the conversation with a supportive purpose.

2. What assumptions are you making about this person's intentions? You may feel intimidated, belittled, ignored, disrespected, or marginalized, but be cautious about assuming that that was their intention. Impact does not necessarily equal intent.

3. What "buttons" of yours are being pushed? Are you more emotional than the situation warrants? Take a look at your "backstory," as they say in the movies. What personal history is being triggered? You may still have the conversation, but you'll go into it knowing that some of the heightened emotional state has to do with you.

4. How is your attitude toward the conversation influencing your perception of it? If you think this is going to be horribly difficult, it probably will be. If you truly believe that whatever happens, some good will come of it, that will likely be the case. Try to adjust your attitude for maximum effectiveness.

5. Who is the opponent? What might they be thinking about this situation? Are they aware of the problem? If so, how do you think they perceive it? What are their needs and fears? What solution do you think they would suggest? Begin to reframe the opponent as partner.

6. What are your needs and fears? Are there any common concerns? Could there be?

7. How have you contributed to the problem? How have they?

4 Steps to a Successful Outcome from a Difficult Conversation

The majority of the work in any conflict conversation is work you do on yourself. No matter how well the conversation begins, you'll need to stay in charge of yourself, your purpose and your emotional energy.

Breathe, center, and continue to notice when you become off-center - and choose to return again. This is where your power lies. By choosing the calm, centered state, you'll help your opponent/partner to be more centered, too. Centering is not a step; centering is how you are as you take the steps.

Step #1:Inquiry

Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Pretend you don't know anything (you really don't), and try to learn as much as possible about your opponent/partner and their point of view. Pretend you're entertaining a visitor from another planet, and find out how things look on that planet, how certain events affect them, and what the values and priorities are there.

If they really were from another planet, you'd be watching their body language and listening for the unspoken energy as well. Do that here. What do they really want? What are they not saying?

Let them talk until they're finished. Don't interrupt except to acknowledge. Whatever you hear, don't take it personally. It's not really about you. Try to learn as much as you can in this phase of the conversation. You'll get your turn, but don't rush it.

Step #2:Acknowledgment

Acknowledgment means to show that you've heard and understood. Try to understand them so well you can make their argument for them. Then do it. Explain back to them what you think they're really going for. Guess at their hopes and honor their position. They won't change unless they see that you see where they stand. Then they might. No guarantees.

Acknowledge whatever you can, including your own defensiveness if it comes up. It's fine; it just is. You can decide later how to address it.

For example, in an argument with a friend I said: "I notice I'm becoming defensive, and I think it's because your voice just got louder and sounded angry. I just want to talk about this topic. I'm not trying to persuade you in either direction." The acknowledgment helped him (and me) to re-center.

Acknowledgment can be difficult if we associate it with agreement. Keep them separate. Even if I say, "this sounds really important to you," it doesn't mean I'm going to go along with your decision.

Step #3:Advocacy

When you sense that they've expressed all their energy on the topic, it's your turn. What can you see from your perspective that they've missed? Help clarify your position without minimizing theirs.

For example: "From what you've told me, I can see how you came to the conclusion that I'm not a team player. And I think I am. When I introduce problems with a project, I'm thinking about its long-term success. I don't mean to be a critic, though perhaps I sound like one. Maybe we can talk about how to address these issues so that my intention is clear."

Step #4:Problem-Solving

Now you're ready to begin building solutions. Brainstorming is useful, and continued inquiry. Ask your opponent/partner what they think would work. Whatever they say, find something that you like and build on it.

If the conversation becomes adversarial, go back to inquiry. Asking for the other's point of view usually creates safety, and they'll be more willing to engage. If you've been successful in centering, adjusting your attitude, and in engaging with inquiry and useful purpose, building sustainable solutions will be easy.

Practice, practice, practice! The art of conversation is like any art - with continued practice you acquire skill and ease. You, too, can create better working and family relationships, ease communication problems and improve the quality of your work and home environment. You're on the way, and here are some additional hints

Tips and suggestions

  • A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you are and what you say. How you are (centered, supportive, curious, problem-solving) will greatly influence what you say.
  • Acknowledge emotional energy - yours and theirs - and direct it towards a useful purpose.
  • Know and return to your purpose at difficult moments.
  • Don't take verbal attacks personally. Help your opponent/partner come back to center.
  • Don't assume they can see things from your point of view.
  • Practice the conversation with a friend before holding the real one.
  • Mentally practice the conversation. See various possibilities and visualize yourself handling them with ease. Envision the outcome you're hoping for.
  • You can of course follow our Managing Difficult Conversations training to acquire the basis and practice in a safe environment.

Published in our April 2015 Newsletter. Written by Judy Ringer


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Ingredient for Building a Great Team



Great teams that have multiple superstars possess the following:
  1. Consistency - "Greatness, we say, is consistency." - Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra
  2. Sacrifice - "Mutual sacrifice is a resounding vote for teamwork."
  3. Talent - "It's a huge bet that, in the end, talent will prevail."
  4. Short-term Loyalty - "For the most sought after talent, company loyalty has given way to a desire for a big, bold short-term project - developing a breakthrough product, pursuing a new market."
  5. Sacrifice - "The team's leaders have done what stars need to do when they merge: show a willingness to sacrifice."
  6. Familiarity - "New hires perform better when they bring a former colleague with them" - Boris Groysberg
  7. Value - "Because the Heat had something special to offer them (the supporting cast), it signed most of them at well below market value."
  8. Commonality - "Nothing brings a team together like a common enemy."
  9. Bonding - "The real bonding didn't occur until the Heat Troops began to shed blood on the battlefield."
  10. Identity - "Under duress, Miami found its identity."
  11. Gift of Struggle - "As the adversity that bound the players together waned, the chemistry faltered."
  12. Collaboration - "Camaraderie doesn't necessarily translate in seamless collaboration."
  13. Cohesion - "Miami's talent is no match for cohesive team play."
  14. Specialties - "When you assemble a team of experts, it's better to have complementary, not competing, specialties." - Groysberg
  15. Space - "In business, you probably wouldn't hire two CEOs to work together." - Steve Kerr
  16. Integration - "To achieve the proper balance, it's crucial to map out a strategy. Acquiring a player of (LeBron) James's caliber is like acquiring a company. You need a whole integration plan." - Groysberg
  17. Decision Making - "Probably what I've learned from Pat (Riley) the most is that coaching in this league is about managing personalities, more than managing Xs and Os...Some players get to that conclusion differently than others." - Spoelstra
  18. Credibility - "There is no more fragile commodity than the credibility of a team leader."
  19. Success - "The most successful superstar teams embrace shared leadership." - Richard Hackman
  20. Time - "They (superstar teams) need time to crystallize. They need consistency, the same people butting heads, compromising, collaborating, day after day." - Spoelstra