Meet Angel Diaz-Maroto

Energetic is a word Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) Approved Educator Angel Diaz-Maroto uses to describe himself, and it's a bit of an understatement. As a trainer, coach, and mentor for one of the leading Agile coaching firms in Europe and Latin America, Diaz-Maroto is the definition of a global citizen, traveling the world to teach about Agile leadership. "The week before last week I was coaching and giving a Certified Leadership Training Santiago de Chile; last week I in Brussels; this week in Madrid; after that New York," he says. "You could say I'm based everywhere and nowhere."

Diaz-Maroto's Agile leadership teaching is equally high energy, which should come as no surprise considering that he was once a professional dancer. "If you're lazy, don't take my classes, because we're always moving around," he jokes. "The model I use for leadership is called the "Leader's dance floor"." And when he says dance floor, he means it; part of his training involves mapping out the Agile leadership process like a hopscotch grid on the floor for students to walk through.

"I put it on the floor so you can stand in each place and incorporate that perspective," he says, adding that he developed this practice from concepts that came out of his study of ontological coaching and systemic leadership. It works, he says. Leadership students come away with a much more intuitive understanding of the thinking involved in systemic leadership. "The body is an important element of learning, but people tend to forget about it. But physically moving around and seeing something from different angles helps you integrate it."

A frequent speaker at international conferences and Agile events, Diaz-Maroto is also a professor at ESNE (Escuela Universitaria de Diseño, Innovación y Tecnología), the university of design, innovation, and technology in Madrid. He's also a management 3.0 licensed trainer and former chair of the international Agile Experts Group. All of this is to say that he keeps very busy and likes it that way.

It was while working in software development for banking that Diaz-Maroto first encountered elements of Agile thinking. Living and working in northern Italy at the time, he met people in textile manufacturing and other industries who were exploring Lean for manufacturing. "I like simplifying processes, removing impediments and waste, so I really like that mindset. I started reading about Lean and wondering if there might be something similar for software — and thinking if not, I'll do it myself," he says. "I knew extreme programming and I was used to applying those practices, and I knew there was something bigger than that."

When he found Alistair Cockburn's book Agile Software Development, he'd found the source he was looking for. He began listening to Cockburn's podcasts, then followed that thread to Scrum and on to a wealth of ideas, theories, and practices of organizational transformation.

Hired by ING, one of Europe's biggest banks, to introduce Agile, Diaz-Maroto spent three years transforming the company. "We went from ‘I don't know what Agile is' to being one of the biggest success stories in Europe," he says. "The whole organization embraced Agile; every team was doing Scrum, every development team had continuous integration."

One source of this success, Diaz-Maroto, says, was discovering that it worked much better to approach transformation in stages. "We went through three complete structural and organizational changes, basically one a year, each time staying focused on one clear message."

The first year it was Lean, with an emphasis on removing impediments and reducing waste. The second year, it was reducing dependencies, identifying silos and waiting times, and reorganizing to avoid them. And the third year it was continuous feedback from the customer.

"I realized you have to do things one by one; if you try to give too many messages or talk about too many things, the organization becomes confused. It's much more organic to introduce change one step at a time."

He also realized the importance of two key tenets of Agile leadership: "One is the message of continuous learning, the other is leadership development at all levels."

Moving up to become chair of ING's Agile expert groups, Diaz-Maroto brought Agile transformation to 16 countries, including France, Germany, Austria, Poland, India, and Turkey.

Since leaving ING in 2013, Diaz-Maroto has worked with a wide range of clients, including eBay, Roche Pharmaceuticals, the interactive game company King, Banco de Chile, and Toyota. Most recently he's been working with Falabella, the biggest retailer in South America.

The CAL program from Scrum Alliance®, which launched in spring and summer 2016, aims to develop Agile leadership competency, maturity, and effectiveness through an education- and practice-based program. As a Scrum Alliance-approved CAL Educator, Diaz-Maroto is excited about the opportunity to work within the program's well-developed framework, while also basing his unique approach on his past experiences with clients around the world and on feedback from those he's taken through CAL and corporate training.

"I tell my students, the first thing a leader needs to understand is the context of Agile. Why does it make sense now?" he asks. The answer, he says, is rooted in the idea of a "third industrial revolution" that today is requiring companies and businesses to excel in continual customization.

"It's not the same thing to produce a suit in a factory as it is to tailor it for the customer," he says. "You need the customer to be there, coming in often to take measurements, give you specifications, and have interactions about what he wants. That type of customization requires a different type of organizational thinking." 

Referring once again to his dance-floor process, Diaz-Maroto says physically walking through the steps of "complexity thinking" helps leaders conceptualize this interaction between process, structure, and culture. "I call it dancing because it involves connecting all these dots, and it's a kind of dance."

Thanks to Diaz-Maroto's extensive experience training leaders in so many different countries, he has also learned the importance of tailoring his curriculum to the learning style of his students.

"Not every brain works the same way — some people want to have an overview, they enjoy seeing things from space, while other people really enjoy the details," he says. "They want tools, blueprints, a recipe to follow that will work always."

For those leaders, he says, it's important to help them step back and see the importance of on-the-spot flexibility. "If you really want to be a great leader, you need to get skilled at using tools, but first you have to have the ability to think creatively about what tool is best for what task," he says. "I tell them, ‘If I tell you to use a hammer, then all you can do is hit nails. So I'll show you the toolbox, but I won't tell you whether to use a hammer or a saw.'"

Diaz-Maroto will be teaching CAL I in London UK 5-6 June and Singapore 20-21 July. You can also find numerous videos of his international speaking engagements online, but to really grasp Diaz-Maroto's ideas and put them into practice, you need to experience his dance floor for yourself.