Meet Peter Green

Peter Green specializes in helping leaders make the leap of faith to fully embrace an Agile environment and create highly engaged, purpose-driven organizations. “Agile leaders have to deal with a certain level of interconnectedness and internal complexity– the ability to recognize that outcomes are not predictable,” Green says. “And when outcomes can’t be controlled, leaders have to think and act in a different way. You have to take a scientific approach, thinking in terms of experiments and hypotheses and testing.”

Green learned all this from direct experience. Now a trainer with Agile for All, he spent ten years working to bring about an Agile transformation at Adobe that helped the company move from the traditional license/desktop model to the cloud/subscription model, known as Creative Cloud.

Green’s journey into the world of Scrum and Agile started when, as a newly promoted program manager at Adobe, he was invited to attend a lunchtime presentation by Jeff Sutherland. Green says he was immediately hooked. “Over and over I heard things that I knew would help our team meet our challenges. And by the end of the hour I’m going, `We’re totally doing this.’”

His enthusiasm, however, outpaced his expertise, and he quickly realized he needed training, obtaining his CSM from Ken Schwaber in 2005. Right away Green’s team began to see quality improvements over previous release cycles while working fewer hours.

Green began to recognize the full power of Agile to truly transform workplace culture. “We used to do these big, long release cycles with pretty significant project milestones,” Green says. “And when our first Scrum product, Soundbooth, got to that date, our bug count was so low, we thought, what are we going to do for the next six months? So we went ahead and added extra features.”

When Soundbooth continued adding features after the traditional “pencils down” milestone, it raised some eyebrows in the organization. “Other teams were doing all this overtime, and they’d look out the window during lunch, and we were outside playing whiffleball.” Needless to say, people took notice. “The other teams started to say `Hey come tell us more about this Scrum thing,’ and that was the beginning of my impact outside my team.”

When another team he had trained, which had a history of working long, grueling hours, reduced their bug count to less than half of the previous cycle, Green asked them what they were going to do with all the extra time they earned, expecting that they’d take a similar approach and do more feature development. “Instead, they said `In previous cycles we’ve really burned our team out trying to get the release out the door. This time we’re going to take care of our people. We’re going to focus on reducing technical debt and helping people work at a sustainable pace.’ I still get chills thinking about that moment.”

Adobe created a position for Green as a full-time coach in 2008 and he got his CST in 2011, training teams throughout the Creative Suite, Digital Marketing, and Document business units, as well as other teams in IT, marketing and globalization. “By the time I left I’d trained hundreds of teams and probably 4,000 people,” Green says.

“As more and more teams adopted Scrum, awareness would move up the chain and it had a huge impact on the company,” he says. “Adobe was able to make this massive business model change because quality was high enough to support it.”

At the same time, though, some at the executive level weren’t ready for what Green was teaching. “I saw what was possible by taking this mindset and applying it more broadly, and I got frustrated when they couldn’t see how this could be so much bigger than it was,” says Green. “I remember a senior executive telling me `I appreciate that you’ve made our engineering teams much more efficient,’ and I felt like that mindset was leaving huge opportunities on the table by not going full in.” In 2015, Green left to join Agile for All.

But it was only when he began coaching executive leadership that Green had the light-bulb realization that’s now the core of his CAL teaching. “Looking back, I realized I had been pushing so hard that there was no way the executives were going to be receptive to my message,” Green says. “I wasn’t taking an Agile approach to change. I was the problem. It was about my own leadership.”

Green began a quest to develop his own leadership capabilities, and then distilled that down to a process designed to inspire true leadership change, a curriculum that he has incorporated into Scrum Alliance’s CAL Leadership training. “Leaders have to have that moment where they realize, if I want my team or my department or my company to be successful, the change has to start with me.”

In addition to the personal leadership development focus, Green works with a curriculum built around 8 principles of an Agile organization, helping students wrestle with tough questions like, what does an Agile organization look like? What are the governance policies? What are the incentives?

“These questions get at what actually motivates people, and it turns out, it’s not what we thought,” says Green. “For knowledge workers in particular, it’s more about autonomy, purpose, mastery, and connection. People want to get better at their craft and have the satisfaction of that.” People also want to feel influential in the direction of the organization, but that type of respect doesn’t have to come in the form of authority over others. “In some Agile organizations, there’s no traditional hierarchical structure, nowhere `up to go’ and that goes totally in the face of traditional business thinking,” Green says.

In CAL sessions, these questions can give rise to great anxiety. Managers often have to get past an immediate response of “that’s not going to work in my organization,” Green says. “They feel that if they can’t get more people under them, they won’t feel that they’re advancing.”

A key piece of Green’s approach is conducting 360 evaluations, designed to help leaders get comfortable with asking for feedback, something that’s not easy for most people. “This is a really scary, key piece of leadership development,” he says. “You can’t know if you’re an effective leader without asking people, how am I impacting you?”

While nervous at first, students are usually surprised at how much of the feedback is positive, and at how much they learn about themselves from the process.

“We can get pretty deep into stuff,” Green says with a laugh. “I might ask a leader `What about your family situation growing up caused you to deal with stuff this way? How did that approach help you early in your career, and why is it killing you now?’ People come out feeling like they’ve been through a really intense therapy session.” The result: Students gain clarity, insight and growth.

One recent trainee, for example, heard from others in the class that he was highly respected for his expertise, but sometimes was too passive. “A lot of leaders think that if they’re not micromanaging, then they’re a good leader, but people actually want you to be decisive and passionate,” says Green. Coaching helped the student understand why he had trouble taking a stand, and how to be balance giving autonomy with being direct and tolerant of conflict.

In another case, Green helped a leader who was widely respected but considered somewhat distant learn how to relax and open up to colleagues without fear of losing her authority. “By all accounts people just loved this leader’s capability, but one area she was weak in was connecting on a personal level – people didn’t feel like they could hang out and laugh with her,” Green says. Through a coaching discussion, the trainee had a breakthrough, realizing that early childhood awkwardness had led her to feel she always had to be perfect. “I asked her, ‘What would it look like if you were to show some vulnerability?’ and she got it. It led to a huge change.” Green said. Other students have been able to let go of the need to be “right” all the time, learning to be more open to colleagues’ ideas.

Over and over, Green says, students tell him, “I wish I’d done this way sooner. Now I have clarity about why I lead the way I do, and clarity about what I need to do to get better.”

Peter has played an integral role in developing Scrum Alliance learning objectives and programs by serving on multiple committees, including those which have developed the CSPO learning objectives, Scrum Foundations, and of course Certified Agile Leadership.