Elon Musk’s Keys to Great Teamwork

What makes great teams great?

In my drive to learn more about how great teams become great teams, I stumbled upon Ashlee Vance’s book, Elon Musk. Vance had his work cut out for him, as Musk didn’t agree to cooperate on the book until well into his writing. In reading about Musk and his approach to business and technology, it was enlightening to learn that when Musk started Tesla and SpaceX, he brought with him many of the methods and concepts learned from his years in the software field.

A main principle of Agile is to have self-organized, cross-functional teams of people capable of getting the work done. It sounds so simple, and yet it is a big challenge to many companies working on their transformation to Agile today.

Imagine a team like this?

Imagine building a new feature for your product, and putting together a team made up of business people, developers, analysts, testers, etc., and then asking them, “What will it take to get this feature built?” Not, can you have this feature done by May 15th. You ask the team, “What can you do?”

You would be putting the commitment into the teams hands and, by having everyone together, you would ensure that the work was completed as defined by the team. Such a simple concept – let people who are asking for, building, testing and accepting the final result, work together from start to finish to ensure they build what the customer wanted!

Self-Organizing, Cross-Functional

Musk took note of how Agile teams worked and the self-organizing and cross-functional team concept, and brought it right to the manufacturing floor of SpaceX. As noted by Vance,

“Desks were interspersed around the factory so that Ivy League computer scientists and engineers designing the machines could sit with the welders and machinists building the hardware. This approach stood as SpeceX’s first major break with traditional aerospace companies that prefer to cordon different engineering groups off from each other and typically separate engineers and machinists by thousands of miles by placing their factories in locations where real estate and labor run cheap.”

Musk leveraged his greatest resource, his people, to work together to do the unthinkable. Starting from scratch in 2002, SpaceX became the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which it first accomplished in December of 2010 – just 8 years. Again, in May of 2012 they made history when they delivered cargo to the International Space Station. Most recently, in December of 2015, SpaceX delivered satellites into orbit and the first stage of their rocket safely returned and landed on earth – the first-ever orbital class rocket landing.

Human Interaction

As further noted by Vance when looking into how Musk changed an industry,

“He’s managed to keep the safety factor up while cutting costs. He’s just taken the best things from the tech industry like the open-floor office plans and having everyone talking and all this human interaction. It’s a very different way to most of the aerospace industry, which is designed to produce requirements documents and project reviews.”

It is clear, not only from Musk’s demonstrable proof, that people who make commitments to their own work and then work together, are capable of accomplishing amazing results. By building self-organizing, cross-functional teams, today’s organizations can leverage the power of self-motivation, commitment and teamwork like never imagined before. That is, if they can let go of old habits.​

Musk took note of how Agile teams worked and the self-organizing and cross-functional team concept, and brought it right to the manufacturing floor of SpaceX.

Could NBA Coach Steve Kerr be a Scrum Master?

On December 6, 2016, Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors scored 60 points in just 3 quarters of a game against the Indiana Pacers.  It was an amazing performance, and you can see the highlights over at ESPN, but that wasn’t the only performance of the night.  You see, Klay only played in the first 3 quarters because his coach, Steve Kerr, benched him for the final quarter of the game.

Why would you bench a player for scoring 60 points in 3 quarters?  Klay was having the game of his career and setting records, so why would you sit him?

Well, if you know anything about Steve Kerr, you would know that he has consistently stressed to his team that the only way to win, is to win as a team.  He has told them repeatedly that no one player is bigger than the team.  This is a group made up of All Stars, and he is telling them that they are no bigger than the team?  He must be crazy!

Well, he is not crazy.  He is a smart coach and knows the power of teamwork and will do anything to impart his teaching on the Warriors, even if that means sitting Klay Thompson after he put on the performance of his life.  This type of coaching was on national television for everyone to see and yet, most of the news media will only focus on Klay’s accomplishments and not Kerr’s.

If you have been practicing Agile software development, you know that it too encourages the Team.  Scrum, talks about self-organizing team’s as a critical factor in it’s success, but unfortunately, no one is watching a Scrum team on national television.

Steve Kerr may not be a Scrum Master, but he has certainly, perhaps without knowing it, imparted on the Golden State Warriors the same characteristics of a self-organizing Agile team:

  1. Team members are self-empowered – they know what needs to be done and have the means to do it
  2. They are willing to take on the responsibility of self-organizing and self-examining
  3. They are ready to let go of their individual egos and differences so that the team can function together
  4. Scrum’s success is dependent on the team’s ability to self-examine itself and to continually seek improvement

Do you think you could sit your “Klay Thompson” in the 4th quarter?  If not, what is that saying to your team? To your company?  Are you prepared to rely on the individual contributor knowing that you may alienate others on the team?  Have you looked at what could really be accomplished if you let the team figure things out and self-organize and you sat your “Klay Thompson”?

I challenge you to pause for a moment and think about your own situation and look at how you manage your teams.

Note: The Warriors won the game, 142-106, and while you may look to the box score and see Klay’s 60, you will also see another amazing feat: Every single player on the team scored!

Communicating as a Scrum Master

Traditional Project Management tells us a Project Manager…

  • provides status via a project plan
  • facilitates status meetings with the team
  • uses Dashboards to communicate to management
  • is the representative of management on the team for communicating

Let’s see how Agile Project Management addresses communications. Download your Communication Guide today!

Learning from the Grief Cycle

Change is a powerful thing

Release Planning

You see it on your calendar – “Tuesday, 8:30am – Scrum Training” and you get pangs in your stomach.

You have been creating software for a few years now and things have been going OK.  Your team has been able to deliver what the customer wants (to an extent), and so what if you had to burn the midnight oil once a month to make it all happen.  After all, doesn’t everyone put in a little extra effort to hit a goal now and then?

Does this sound familiar?  Learn about the Grief Cycle and understand why you are not alone.

Release Planning

Learn how to get the most from Release Planning

Does your Manager ask you:

  • “When will you be finished?”
  • “Can you send me the project schedule?”
  • “What percentage complete are you?”
  • “Can you send me details for the Program Dashboard I have to update?”

If any of these questions sound familiar and you are not sure how to respond then download our Agile Top Tips on Release Planning today!

Agile 2.0 – It’s about People and Connections! It’s not about Scaling.


Andrew Carnegie once said,

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.

His observation is spot on, and yet, when discussing Agile Software Development, we find ourselves focused on frameworks instead of people and connections.

Over the past 15 years, Dan Tousignant and Todd Kamens, two Agile thought leaders, have collaborated on numerous projects.  Leveraging Traditional Project Management, Scrum, Lean and Kanban techniques to manage software projects they have now joined to share their thoughts.

Working together on and off over the years, Dan and Todd have discussed many issues with clients’ different implementations of Agile, and with each conversation, a pattern started to emerge.  It wasn’t clear at first, but they started to see how Agile’s success was more about the people and values than the prescribed process and framework.  Dan and Todd started to see how Agile was becoming a practice that was unique to each company and involved people and connections in making it succeed.

Interestingly, when Dan and Todd saw these connections in the workplace, they had both started to practice Mindfulness.  Mindfulness seems to be the new buzzword these days for the stressed out corporate executive, those going through a midlife crisis or those that are just searching for more meaning out of their day.  Though it is a new term, it is not a new concept and has existed for thousands of years.

We are not attempting to teach Mindfulness in this article, however, it is important to understand it at it’s core as defined by Jon Kabat-Zin as follows,

“Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of the experience moment by moment.”

In their conversations about Agile and Mindfulness, the patterns became clear as they started to see how Mindfulness aligned with the core values of Agile.

Agile Mindfulness
Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools Mindfulness teaches us to be open to novelty, sensitive to different contexts and to be aware of multiple perspectives.
Working software over comprehensive documentation Mindfulness teaches us to accept change, to appreciate other viewpoints and to be able to focus on the present.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Mindfulness teaches us an awareness of multiple perspectives and listening to hear versus listening to reply.
Responding to change over following a plan Mindfulness teaches us to cherish trust, expertise and direct communication.


In summary, Agile 2.0 moves us beyond Frameworks and instead, focuses on people and connections.  We observe how the individual, the team and the organization work together to achieve amazing results.  We pay attention to one another, non-judgmentally, and work together to achieve great value for our customers.

Over the course of several collaborative articles, Dan and Todd will convey their vision of Agile 2.0 and explain how leveraging Mindfulness practices with your Agile software development adoption can create better people, teams and companies capable of achieving greatness.

Todd Kamens
President, Guidance Technology, Inc

Dan Tousignant
President, Cape Project Management, Inc.

10 Ideas to Help you Lower your Stress Level at Work

Stress & Work

Like most people today, you are stressed out! You find that you don’t have a second to catch your breath, enjoy your breakfast or take a walk outside without constantly being interrupted. We live in a 24/7 world of communication and we are being trained in some pretty bad behavior (e.g. like checking our phones in the car.).

Constant communication can not only impact us as individuals, it can impact how we work in teams as well. Not giving proper attention to a fellow teammates work can lead to stress at the team level. Constant multi-tasking can lower productivity and impact your teams’ ability to deliver value.


You want to take time for yourself, but you just don’t know where to begin. Today, start by giving back to yourself and enjoying the Top 10 ideas to help you lower your stress level. (Hint: Mindfulness Meditation)

  1. How Meditation Benefits CEOs

    Learn why CEOs and senior executives are embracing meditation and mindfulness rather than recreation and relaxation alone. Meditation is providing something to benefit CEOs that other practices cannot.

  2. I Thought Meditation Was a Waste of Time. I Was Wrong

    After just eight weeks of mindful meditation, there appears to be a measurable change in brain regions that are associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. If you are not meditating today, why not?
    2 - thinking-1471454-639x432

  3. Meditation Has Become A Billion-Dollar Business

    In 2015, 22% of employers will offer mindfulness training, a percentage that could double in 2017. While not focused on material goals, business is booming.


  4. Salesforce puts meditation rooms on every floor after monks visit

    After a recent visit by 30 Buddhist monks, Mark Benioff took practicing meditation to a whole new level at Salesforce.

  5. Why Mindfulness And Meditation Matter In Leadership

    The benefits of meditations, mindfulness and stopping your thoughts are well documented, but are you doing it?

  6. There’s a surprisingly simple way meditation appears to change the brain

    Research shows that meditation and mindfulness help communication between key regions of the brain AND lower levels of stress.

  7. How An Hour Of Meditation Transformed My Workday

    Read how Alexa Jaccarino from Fast Company set out to establish a meditation practice. Results are in… clearer thinking, greater self-awareness, more calm and more productive at work.

  8. How Meditation Increases Happiness

    At no cost at all and in just a few minutes each day, meditation can help increase your happiness and sense of well-being.

  9. A Yoga Meditation for the Busy Leader

    A simple Yoga practice only taking 15-20 minutes focused on leadership and helping your company succeed. While improving your strength, balance and flexibility you can focus on business outcomes and desires.

  10. 5 Ways Meditation Improves Sales Performance

    Today’s sales professionals are under constant pressure to deliver and solve tough problems for their clients.  Mediation has been used to help improve mental function and critical thinking.

Questions?  Comments?  Let’s talk about them in the comments section below.  Like this post, please share with others.

5 Misconceptions of Implementing Agile

Are you thinking about adopting Agile?  Have you already started?

Today, you may be using a traditional, or Waterfall, approach that meets the needs of your company, but it’s not able to address the adapting needs of your clients.  That being said, the process itself feels comfortable and is well understood by everyone.

Learn about the 5 Misconceptions I hear most when transitioning to an Agile methodology and how you can address each one.

Dealing with Conflict

DEARMANIn today’s technology driven world, the Agile Manifesto has taught us to value Individuals and Interactions over process and tools. It is not surprising that this is the first value of the manifesto as it focuses directly on the people component of software development. The creators of the Agile Manifesto understood that it takes people working together to create great software.

Join me for a short video that goes a bit deeper into the Subject.

Starting with the End

Because we are hard-wired to avoid pain, and we tend to unconsciously associate change with pain, we avoid change at all costs. Until the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of changing, nothing takes place. OK, so we all get it right? Change is not easy, but it is necessary, especially in today’s highly competitive business world.


Join me for a short video that goes a bit deeper into the Subject.