TL; DR: The Agile Movers & Shakers Interview with Viktor Cessan
Welcome to the Agile Movers & Shakers interview series. Today’s guest is Viktor Cessan. Viktor has dedicated his career to helping companies consciously design organizations that keep motivation, engagement, and performance levels high. In the 14 years since he started working with Agile methodologies, he has helped companies such as Spotify, H&M, King, Avanza Bank, Telenor, and Sony Ericsson work more effectively.
Viktor has coached teams of as few as 5 members to organizations with more than 200 people, enabling them to greatly improve their effectiveness as well as levels of happiness and well-being. He specializes in working with executive teams to help implement company-wide agile transformation.
Viktor runs training and workshops on a wide variety of topics such as agile team dynamics, product ownership, leadership, and management. His case study detailing his work with Avanza’s agile transformation has been downloaded and shared thousands of times.
Viktor holds a diploma in professional coaching (ICF), is a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), Certified Scrum Master (CSM), and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). And in addition, he has extensive experience in/with FIRO, SCARF, Virginia Satir’s work, and Tuckman’s and IMGD.
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Agile Movers & Shakers: Viktor Cessan’s Questionnaire
- Please describe what you do in 280 characters:
“I coach organizations and teams from a system, agile, and product perspective.”
- What brought you to ‘agile?’
“I was working as a content manager for Sony Ericsson and had lots of relationships with the local marketing managers across the world and I understood their context well. When Sony Ericsson was being rebranded and a new website was being rolled out, they needed someone who knew and understood the needs of the different markets and the content team, and that person turned out to be me. By luck, it happened that the re-branding dev-teams were agile so they introduced me to it and I became the product owner for that *wait for it* project. I had no prior knowledge of agile back then (in 2006). I had only worked in waterfall projects and was not impressed.”
- Why do you believe that being passionate about ‘agile’ is worth your time?
“It’s not so much about being agile. It’s about being congruent and evolving where it makes sense in order to learn and adjust faster so that we also can deliver value or solve real problems if you will. I think the reasoning that brought us agile is more interesting that agile itself.
To me, what makes it important is that the challenges we’re facing are getting more difficult. The world is complex and the problems we’re facing such as globalization, the climate crises, the risk democracy is in, etc requires focus, understanding, collaboration, and empathy in ways we haven’t seen them before.
So to me, the work I’m doing is larger than software development. To me, increasing people’s ability to think clearly, practice judgment, become more self-aware, collaborate better, remain empathetic, and be congruent, is vital for our survival.”
- How would you characterize your way of contributing to an organization’s success in becoming agile?
“I spend a lot of time trying to understanding the dynamics at play in teams and at the organizational level and then work with organizations to help them make the improvements or shifts that they want to make. I have noticed that particularly my abilities to observe and present patterns are appreciated as is me providing systems with the tools they need to solve their own problems. I also work with helping organizations limit the size of their changes.”
- What is in your toolbox?
“I spend considerable time doing research and learning (have been called a sponge on several occasions) and if I had to boil it down at the moment it’s Hackman’s, neuroscience, and Cynefin that are the most helpful sensemaking tools that I’m using, or exploring, or learning about.
But I’m also a big big fan of John Cutlers and Melissa Perris work with building product organizations. But these areas are of more interest right now because I’m working much more with large organizations. When I worked with teams at Spotify I was much more engaged in learning about agile methodologies, collaboration patterns, prioritization and roadmap tools, feedback, conflict resolution tools, team coaching, etc.
But again, in general. I try to learn as much as I can. The world can’t be explained with one model and I think we need to learn to view events and life in different ways, not only is it helpful in understanding, but it also increases my empathy.
With that said it’s probably easier to look at what’s Not in my toolbox and that’s large predefined scaled agile frameworks or operating systems like holacracy. While I sometimes find specific patterns in them interesting, I’m not too sure about the whole “erase and replace” principle whenever humans are involved. Obviously, that’s not how they have to be used, it’s just that they often are because they’re easier to sell than the alternative.
But on the 2-3 year horizon I’m probably going to start exploring ONA and taking a sabbatical to take classes in programming/development to gain more perspective and empathy, and to challenge myself.”
- Do you believe in removing yourself from a team or an organization in the long run? If so, why is that and have you done so in the past?
“Yes. I’m very upfront with the clients that I work with that I’ll be there at most between one and two years. After that, while my social capital might be high, I’ve started accepting artificial truths. My clients need new perspectives to continue to evolve and I can’t supply them with that anymore.
With regard to companies placing coaches in teams on a permanent basis, I see that as a symptom of something being off. Sure, a team may want coaching about specific topics at a time, but exactly what is in the environment is it that makes teams need a coach all the time (and very often it’s not even the teams who want the coaches there)?”
- What has been your greatest success so far, and how did you manage to realize it?
“I suppose connecting with people on a human level and connecting with systems on a system level has been a breakthrough for me. Through Virginia Satir’s work and FIRO (and coaching and therapy), I’ve learned the first part. And through Jerry Weinberg and Esther Derby’s work, I’ve learned how to observe systems. PSL was particularly transforming to me.”
- What has been your worst failure so far, how did you contribute to it, and what did you learn from it?
“I think it’s best if I define what failure means to me. To me, failure is when people are harmed/hurt regardless if learning is happening. So it’s different from the standard “lack of success” or “undesired outcome.”
I don’t think of having a “worst” failure. I’ve failed many times, and sadly continue to.A part of this is a result of my work but a part is also due to my style but it is also due to the nature of my job (coaching organizations). Sometimes I’m unaware of my impact on people but I try to be aware and at least maintain relationships at difficult times nowadays. I practiced this a lot during my time at Spotify.
But my failures range from me not asking for help, to me isolating myself and avoiding difficult conversations with peers or directs allowing a situation to become worst, to making experiments too big, to placing blame, to trying to be the hero, and to thinking agile is the answer to everything.”
- Finally, what is your magic tool as a coach/trainer or Scrum Master?
“Hunger for learning, observation, placing a very high value in diversity, and empathy perhaps? I haven’t thought of my tools as magic. They’re things I’ve been so lucky to learn from other people. I’ve been fortunate enough to have many mentors who have taught me a lot.”
- Which newsletters, blogs, podcasts, or Youtube channels do you follow that deserve more credit than they receive now? Any recommendations?
- If you could recommend only one book on ‘agile,’ which book would that be?
- Whom should we interview next?
“Jimmy Janlén and Yassal Sundman?”
- Where can we learn more about you?
Note: If you like to suggest a peer for an interview, please let us know by leaving a comment below. Thank you!
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