Last Updated Mar 24, 2014 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert
Enterprise Agile Planning

Guest post by Michael Swansegar

“What’s the most resilient parasite?  An IDEA.
A single idea from the human mind, can build cities.
An idea, can transform the world, and rewrite all the rules…which is why, I have to steal it.
Never recreate from your memory, always imagine new places.
He’s hiding something and we need to find out what that is
This was not a part of the plan.
Wake me up!  Wake me up!”

What if I told you that you have heard those words before?  Well you have, for a good portion of 2010.  Yes, this is the script for the trailer from the movie, “Inception.”  This movie captivated audiences across the globe.  Why?  It was structured to help people understand we are motivated by a highly secure, deeply entrenched idea that shaped our lives. Everything we do in life is built around ideas. Ideas are hard to forget, ideas change the world and inspire companies, nations, families and the most important person, YOU.  You were meant to change the world. Well this script runs two additional things: it runs the agenda of an agile cultural event called Project Inception but this ‘script’ is the basis of how you could potentially view VersionOne.  As I take you through this ‘idea,’ I hope you see as I do, not only the value of an agile event but moreso the value of VersionOne, their culture, their product, and their belief in someone that can change the world, YOU. Forget what you think you know.  Wait a second, that’s hard to do isn’t it?  Let’s do something different; let’s replace our focus on something simple.  The idea is this… replace every scripted plan, every requirement document, every business meeting, every statement of work with a simple question.  That question is simple yet bold, “Is this valuable?”  Is it, the product or service, valuable?  Let’s take it further. Are you acting and building in a valuable way?


Simon Sinek has a wonderful book called Start With Why.  In that book he relates a number of scenarios where companies became market dominators if they focused on why, the motivation, the ‘value’ concept, the limbic brain.  When someone says, “This doesn’t feel right…” that is a limbic brain response. Limbic brains feel value, but can’t necessarily quantify it.  This is where you start / with agile, with our event and with VersionOne.  You start with feeling something about your product, your service, your partnership and, most importantly, with your own motivations. Where do I as an outsider see VersionOne?  Let’s take VersionOne’s tagline which states, “Agile Made Easier.“  AHA! Something real,something that makes you feel right.  If VersionOne said, ‘Agile Made Easy’ you wouldn’t feel right about that statement.  If you said agile was “easy,” someone might look at you and say, “Who lied to you?”  They are motivated to make agile easier.  That isn’t necessarily quantifiable with fact.  Making something easier is very subjective, but the IDEA is VALUABLE.  The idea is to make something easier, make it valuable, make it feel right so it is natural to you.  So the parasite has leached on to VersionOne and hopefully on to you.  Make things easier, make them valuable, period. VersionOne takes it further. They believe, just as I teach at Project Inception, that agile is not about process.  The agile process simply comes along for the ride.  Agile is about loyalty, customer loyalty, your loyalty.  There is a reason why Apple has a cult/like following: they “think different.” They don’t tell you what they have; they tell you how they feel.  Apple’s products make you feel something. VersionOne produces services and an agile project management tool set that is built to inspire loyalty. BS? Let’s take an analogy for a ride, shall we?  You own a mansion with a perfect yard (don’t we all?) and you never live in the house because you have to constantly work to pay for the house.  So what do you do?  You hire a neighborhood kid to mow the grass.  You may be rich, but you believe in using someone nearby / call it “co/located resources.” Well each week, this kid cuts your grass too low.  In fact, imagine you live in southern California where they have no water but plenty of forest fires.  So you know your product of value (the grass) will die a quick death.  Each week you have to over/water the grass so it doesn’t get scorched; call it a broken business process due to a P.O.S. product. Each week you give feedback and the kid doesn’t listen. Each week your grass is getting burned. After the 4th or 5th week, your neighbors are packing up their golf clubs and laughing at you since you can’t join them because your lawn is on the brink of death. Who is the idiot now?  Do you feel loyal to that kid anymore? Does that kid feel loyal to you? How the hell does this relate to VersionOne? Well agile is about building something valuable to inspire loyalty, right? Every few weeks the product is ‘mowed’ by virtue of a product demo. Each iteration, as it were, you get burndown charts and burnup charts. VersionOne excels at a Scrum value called ‘Openness.’ Their agile project management tool brings visibility to either the problems or the successes.  If you chose to show your product and your status by means of an open tool like VersionOne, agile is easier because the parasite (value) is identified faster. Why?  ‘Openness’ assumes some other Scrum values of hearing your customer’s feedback with ‘Respect’ and then having the ‘Focus’ to hear what they feel in their limbic brain. This takes ‘Courage’ to hear painful failures at times, but this allows you to finally ‘Commit.’ You commit to building the right product and making the changes that will inspire the loyalty of that client.

Brain Science Source why/

Brain Science
Source why/

“Why”/The IDEA = Agile Made Easier = Value “How” =  By holding true to agile values and principles in our services and tangible product lines. “What” = We have a tool that shows value defined via stories, charts, graphs, planning, idea management and, most importantly, common sense. Welcome to Maloney’s Rule, or “Accelerating Diffusion of Innovation.” In short, Marketing 101.  Your customers are hiding something from you.  You need to perform Inception on them. Still don’t know what that means? Watch the movie!  It means you go into someone’s dream/head and steal or replace an idea with your own. No, I am not encouraging espionage in companies, but I am encouraging you build your products and services to invite a customer to turn into a partner. Seth Godin (famous marketer) partly calls this stage the title of his book, Permission Marketing. When a customer “invites you” to come into their business, to see more problems and discuss solutions as a partner, you have reached permission marketing. When products or services have reached this stage, you look at Maloney’s Rule and see why it is carried through the curve. Let’s look at the iPhone crazies for a moment:
Maloney's Rule / Bell Curve Source why/

Maloney’s Rule / Bell Curve
Source why/

GEEKS They value being first and “early adopters.” They have a strong limbic feeling to the iPhone so they will buy the iPhone 6 the moment it comes out.  They will tell their friends if it is awesome. They blog, they tweet and they actually attend that two/hour commercial called the Apple Conference. Their limbic brains say “the product feels right; the only losing move is not to play.”  GENERAL PUBLIC They value a product that fits a business need. They check to see the product ratings. They check their wireless contracts and ask themselves, “Do I really want to stay with AT&T or should I wait so I can move to Verizon?”  Their limbic brains say, “I don’t know about this contract; it doesn’t feel right.  Let’s wait to renew.”  GRANDMA They value family and they aren’t too sure if technology is needed to actually come visit someone in person. They most likely won’t buy it. Heck, most of these people can’t even see. They still use AOL for shopping and play Bingo on Fridays.  Their geeky grandchild will give them the iPhone 5 or 4 or 3 saying, “Hey grandma, you want to see your grandkids grow up? I will send a picture of them to you every week.” Meanwhile, grandma can’t find the icon labeled ‘Messages’ to actually see the photograph. So each user type, each partner on the curve, has different value statements.  This is what they are hiding,their IDEA, their VALUE statement.  Hello, Product Owners! Go extract that info, will ya?  Hello, VersionOne! Thank you for making a product with Ideas Management from the ground up.  You didn’t white/label some tool and slap it into your product, claiming it was yours.  Although if you were smart (competitors), you wouldn’t slap anything and take the risk of claiming it was yours.  VersionOne built Ideas Management inside the product because it is part of their DNA // to identify valuehence making agile easier. Project Inception spends an entire morning on this topic so this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is good to know that if this just scrapes the tip, VersionOne must have an iceberg of hardened values we have yet to harness for our benefit.

Welcome to “top/down planning” or “the rolling wave approach” (PMBOK). Time to bring in the agile poster of VersionOne, which you can get here:

VersionOne stresses top/down planning in one of its truest forms. Noticed first, “Agility is…” starts at the top focused on the fuzzy things such as goals and vision.  Now you ask yourself, “How would I like this product released to inspire loyalty and encourage the spirit of collaboration with feedback loops?” VersionOne calls that the Release loop, which has its own estimation and lightweight planning stage.  Working with the customer to decide how they want to define value and potential delivery via feature/based delivery (see Blizzard Entertainment) or timebox/based delivery will inspire them to be a part of your culture and success stories. Now comes the fun part: the first layer of reality, the “Iteration” phase where a review of the product and inspections or “retrospectives” give the partner visibility into who we are and why we exist, day in and day out. When a partner can open VersionOne and see human behavior via burndown or burnup charts, they are fully invested in your company // monetarily and mentally.  When a partner is interested enough to listen to how the team could behave better in a retrospective, you know they are no longer a paying customer but a loyal partner.  This loop is huge; it is where a business ‘fluffy’ executive can see first hand the impacts of business and technical competence colliding. VersionOne handles this phase with care and “Openness” to allow for visibility into the barriers to meeting defined value. The more visibility and accountability at this phase, the more you can leverage agile. To VersionOne’s primary parasite, it makes “agile easier.” Looking into the daily activities, we can project into the future. We aren’t recreating from our memory; we are using data of there, here and now to “imagine new places.” The place, as it were, is the parasite… the idea of value in our partner’s mind for which we are constantly striving. Notice at the end, “Agility is… working software.”  That is all that matters; does it work? “Work” is defined as meeting the parasite // the idea of value, not just from a feature standpoint but also from a perception mindset.  That is really hard to do.  Again, agile is not easy; it can only be made “easier.”

How often have you heard this before?  It is used so often as an excuse to fail. Many people think it is a protective coat of armor. Well, when you are under water, the last thing you want is armor. You want to take everything off, so to speak, any weight, any unnecessary supposed asset / so that you can tread water. Don’t use this comment as an excuse to fail. If life were always planned, it wouldn’t be worth living. If agile were easy, everyone would do it. Better yet, everyone would be doing it properly. Look no further than VersionOne’s homepage.  I am not sure who approved this design, but if it was Dan, props to that guy. The message is loud and clear. Below is a screenshot taken of VersionOne’s web site.


“This wasn’t part of the plan!”

That’s OK, as long as all the projects and all the teams are in one place.  We can adjust; we can see the inter/dependencies. Besides, if this adjustment couldn’t be foreseen, we have bigger problems than the plan itself. We apply strategic thinking to our out loop, and let the vision and idea direct every motivation of our teams by bringing them together to believe in something.

“This wasn’t part of the plan!”

That’s OK. We have visibility across the entire software lifecycle. We see how test/driven development can catch changes and its associated risk nice and early. We see via in/depth reporting how the human impact will be felt at different layers on different teams. We can adjust the impact to be handled by the mature teams while protecting the ones that are fragile. We can see the output and protect its quality through our visibility. We are strong when most open and vulnerable to factual trends.

“This wasn’t part of the plan!”

We believe in in commitment, respect, focus and courage.  You can’t have that without collaboration, and that is why we have views between our teams (agile team software with “TeamRooms“) and Kanban boards. We aggressively hold each other accountable by openly challenging each other to hold their commitments. We collaborate naturally, but use agile team collaboration software to exemplify our natural/born gifts. We are focused on the goal at hand, and we allow nothing to creep in secretly by forcing our organization to openly show what is in the iteration and how we task each other to our most efficient capacity.

plan pencil
“This wasn’t part of the plan!”…  
“You are correct, and that is why we are changing the plan.  We work on value, period.  Our partner trusts us to see reality and their needs change.  Perhaps you should start using a pencil
…instead of a pen next time?” 

You see this in your typical workflow of agility at the customer demos.  The business doesn’t like to be surprised, so this shouldn’t be the first time you share your findings with customers. However, you can find blog posts on demo day all over the place. Let’s bring this back home instead of repeating content you have read elsewhere. Inception: we have hopefully leached a parasite on you // an idea focused on value. In the sense of agile, we want you to feel the need to find what your customers are hiding… that tangible idea of value buried beneath layers and layers of security. We have talked about looking at the limbic brain and understanding your partners’ feelings, and from a marketing angle why you can’t ignore the geeks who believe in something. We have carried the parasite forward, not wanting to latch on to the past, but always imaging new places. The place of value our customers dream about and our interpretation of that dream can be obtained by striving to have not only a process, but a culture centered around agility. Agile Made Easier Agile Made Easier It’s time to wake up and understand a cold, hard truth: agile is not, nor will it ever be, easy. However, Project Inception and VersionOne have a simpler goal: agile can be made easier.

Are you ready to scale your enterprise?


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