Agile Coaching Survey: participate to help us understand your practice!

Hey friends!

Here’s a request for help understanding better you Agile Coaching practice!

Leigh Griffin, who has been a guest here on the podcast, wants your help, and he will come to the podcast to share the results of the survey, so please participate!

In Leigh’s own words:

Coaching Agile principles is a cornerstone of mature teams. The competencies required though are both deep and varied. We want you to participate in our anonymous survey on Agile Coaching competencies. Help us to better inform aspiring coaches of how best to improve by telling us where you are at in your journey’

I’d love to come back on and talk about the insights gained, already the results are surprising and a great talking point but I won’t spoil it!!

You can participate in this survey by completing the short form here.

Remember to share it with your friends and colleagues!

Keep sharing, keep helping the community!

The untold, science based, truth about motivating and engaging Scrum teams

This is a guest blog post by Christian Heidemeyer, the developer of Echometer, a tool for Scrum Masters to run retrospectives, and collect data that helps reflect and develop  team’s performance

Why employee mindset is overrated

After interviewing hundreds of Scrum Masters, one of the most common challenges we at Echometer get is: “People don’t have the right, agile mindset.” 

As a psychologist, I think these Scrum Masters do not understand one of the key ideas of agile methods and Scrum. These people are overrating the importance of employee mindset over other – critical – aspects, which leads them down the wrong path. I will try to explain it with a simple story.

The story of Felix

Imagine Felix, an amazing software engineer who mostly works on his own. He created some creative free products thousands of people use. People celebrate him on Twitter.

But Felix wants a change. More and more of his IT friends, especially Sarah, talked about the magic of working in a great team. Where people inspire each other, or as they say: where ideas have sex.

Felix applies to a few jobs and ends up with two offers that seem to fit his needs. The two potential teams he could join are totally different.

The Performers

Team one, let us call them, “Performers”, seem to be a team of overperformers. Every single one of the team members is a legend in their area of expertise. Felix was able to talk to two of the team members. They seemed to be highly motivated and skilled. They are young and bold. But at the same time, Felix feels like something is wrong in that team after talking to the team members. They did not seem to be totally honest with him.

And then there is the way they organize: There is no clear structure. Everybody is supposed to have maximum freedom – because after all, they are all skilled professionals who know what to do. 

On the one hand, Felix likes this high-profile companionship. On the other hand, he is not sure how the team benefits from each other’s knowledge with so little communication and structure.

The Teamy-Team

In team two, we will call “Teamy”, Felix did not know a single one of the developers. None of them seemed to be specifically good at their job. Some of the developers in the team seemed to be relatively old and clumsy on first impression.

But at the same time, they are the team everybody talked about on Social Media. The challenge they worked on was the challenge everybody worked on – but they seemed to be the team with the solution: A simple, smart, and creative game-changer.

When he talked to one of the older team members, Robin, he saw the glowing enthusiasm in his eyes. That is nothing he saw in the “Performers” Team. So which team should Felix go for?

The system and the mindset

Let me tell you something about the two teams Felix does not know: Team 1 is not performing. Individually they are good and they are motivated, but they don’t work as a team. 

Colleagues of the “Performers” team know of their bad performance. And they also think they know the reason: “They just don’t have the right mindset”. 

Now imagine Felix would join the Performers team. I am pretty sure, Felix – a motivated and bright software engineer – would not have performed well over the long run. His colleagues would also say “he also does not have the right mindset, just like the others”. They would think there is something wrong with Felix as a person.

We are at the core of the problem here. These colleagues blame it on the mindset. But as you may have guessed, it is not the mindset.

Jeff Sutherland says it, too

The majority of people have what people think of as the “right” mindset. They are motivated and want to perform. But it is the situation, surroundings, or system they are in – the culture and structure of their team, company, or maybe private family – that affects their performance. 

This is the case for the “Performers” team. Individually they have good ideas and skills. But they are lacking the right structure and communication system. Therefore, these ideas go in different directions, tasks are not aligned, making progress really hard. 

Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum, puts it this way here: “We are all creatures of the system we find ourselves embedded in. Instead of seeking someone to blame, try to examine the system that produced the failure and fix the system.”

We tend to overrate the importance of personal character when explaining the behavior of others. Interestingly, we do not do so when explaining our own behavior, or did you ever hear someone say “I don’t have the right mindset”? No, that person could give a good – situational – reason why they are not performing.

In psychology, this is called “fundamental attribution error”. It is a natural, widely spread bias in western cultures that you can obverse everywhere in daily life.

Working on the root cause

Given the fundamental attribution error, people often think they can solve their problems if they could “fix” one or two persons in their team. Instead, they should work on their team and their surrounding as a whole.

Therefore, like many others, I believe the retrospective is the most important event in Scrum. There you can make your team aware of the root causes of the problems they face, which often lie in the situation, not the persons. This is the reason why I, as a psychologist and agile evangelist, decided to develop a tool for agile retrospectives in teams, Echometer – and not, e.g., a digital coach for the individual. 

If you really want to work on the psychological input triggers of team performance, I recommend having a look at the “team flow” model of dutch scientist Dr. Jef van den Hout. He developed a model that is a roadmap to bring the individual feeling of flow to a whole team.

You can find more about the model and get additional 12 practical workshops to bring it into your team – for example in your agile retro – in my free eBook. You can download it here.

Ah, by the way. Felix chose the right team, “Teamy”. He is really happy with his choice. Learning more than ever – and adding more value than ever!

About Christian Heidemeyer

Christian is a psychologist by training and a retrospective tool developer for Scrum Masters and Scrum Teams. His tool Echometer takes advantage of the latest science-based findings of team motivation and performance to help Scrum Masters run impactful retrospectives.

You can link with Christian Heidemeyer on LinkedIn.

Announcing the Scrum Master Summit by the Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast

Update: The call for sessions is over, but you can still participate in the many live sessions and attend all the talks at the Scrum Master Summit. Register for FREE here.

Every year, we travel to a conference and make new friends. As Scrum Masters, talking to our peers and learning from their experience is something we must constantly do because there’s no Scrum Master University (yet…). So talking to, and learning from our peers is a critical aspect of our personal and professional growth.

We can join communities online, but nothing beats meeting other professionals face-to-face. Here at the Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast, we strive to bring the Scrum Master community to you, every week. But that’s not the same as meeting and talking with people “live”!

That’s why we’ve decided to organize and promote the Scrum Master Summit, an event thought and designed for you, the Scrum Master! And we will be focusing on featuring your experience in the talks and presentations that we will record. However, the key aspect of this Summit is that we will be hosting live events throughout the week of the conference (May 17th, save the date!). 

Submit your session, and share your experience with your peers. You will get immense feedback from the community, and develop your ideas. Ultimately our goal is to create a thriving community around the Scrum Master role because we believe that the Scrum Master role is critical for a world that needs a new culture of work, a culture of collaboration and achieving together.

Submit your session proposal now, and be an active part of the community. You will learn so much!

Scrum Masters are the future CEO’s, and a podcast by the Lean Enterprise Institute

I’ve been working on a collection of great blog posts about the Scrum Master role. If you have a favorite article on the Scrum Master role, or it’s goals and responsibilities, let me know by submitting it here:

I believe that one of the most well-kept secrets of the Agile community is that the Scrum Master role is the role where the future CEO’s are born.

I know, I know. This sounds like an exaggeration. True. But I do have some good arguments for this below, so read on!

Scrum Masters are about building organizations that work together

I was listening to this podcast by the Lean Enterprise Insititute (a non-profit that tries to advance Lean practice) with heard Alan Mulally, the ex-CEO of Boeing and Ford.

In that podcast, Alan explains how he implemented the “people first” model he learned about at Boeing (being involved in all of the plane projects at Boeing) and later implemented also at Ford.

His perspective is refreshing. But especially it is very much in line with what we think the Scrum Master role is. Take this quote for example: “Pull everyone together around the Vision for the Product, and around the Strategy for achieving that Vision”

“Pull everyone together around the Vision for the Product, and around the Strategy for achieving that Vision”
– Alan Mulally, ex-CEO of Boeing and Ford

For me, that’s a great description of what the role of the Scrum Master is about: pulling people together around the Vision for the product that the Product team has put together with their stakeholders, and pulling people together around the strategy to achieve that Vision!

Scrum Masters are about building organizations that put “people first”

The podcast goes on and talks about something that is incredibly important: how do we build high-performance teams. The lessons Alan shares are also crucial, and we’ve talked about this here on the Scrum Master Toolbox podcast: when a team member does not want to play by the rules the team has setup (low “working together skills, as Alan puts it), that’s poison for the team.

(On Working together and peer accountability) “Everyone who does not operate this way is poison”
– Alan Mulally, ex-CEO of Boeing and Ford

As Scrum Masters, one of our greatest responsibilities is to make sure that the team comes together and agrees on how to work together, and keep themselves accountable! Just like a CEO as Alan explains!

Alan shares his approach to bringing people together on the execution aspect of the work: be clear about the rules (work with the team to define those), and define a method for self and peer accountability!

“Most of the time, when you are clear about the process, and the rules of working together, people will come together and become great team contributors”
– Alan Mulally, ex-CEO of Boeing and Ford

As Scrum Masters, we are responsible for making sure everyone on the team understands (and contributes) to the rules of the work! Just like a CEO as Alan explains!

This was a great podcast with Jim Morgan (Lean Enterprise Institute) and Alan Mulally (ex-CEO at Boeing and Ford), and is filled with insights for Scrum Masters, who are the future of the CEO role!

One more quote to finish (from the podcast, at around minute 29)

“My biggest contribution, was holding myself and the team accountable for following the process and acceptable behaviours”
– Alan Mulally, ex-CEO of Boeing and Ford

That’s a quote from a CEO, not a #ScrumMaster. But it could be from a Scrum Master!

Help us grow as a Scrum Master community, share your best 2020 articles below.

Developing Teams the Scrum (and Lean) way! by Lean.Org’s The Lean Post

I’ve been working on a collection of great blog posts about the Scrum Master role. If you have a favorite article on the Scrum Master role, or it’s goals and responsibilities, let me know by submitting it here:

Scrum Masters are key participants in the teams, and key contributors to the improvement of productivity in the organizations they work in. Even if the Scrum approach and Agile, in general, are very new (from late1990’s, early 2000s), there are other approaches that have been with us for nearly more than a century now.

One such approach is “Taylorism”. In that approach, the main premise is that “some people” know “what needs to be done and how” (the planner/thinker), and other people “do it” (the doers).

“Take it to the team”: a Scrum Master Mantra

Unfortunately, that Tayloristic approach has become prevalent thanks to the work of some early consultancies.

In Scrum, one of the most important changes to the world of work is that the “doers” are also the “thinkers”. This is one of the reasons why here on the Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast, we often say: “take it to the team”. In other words, anyone can raise an idea of improvement, but only the team knows what can/should be done to achieve the goal. Sometimes that team is the development team, sometimes it is the development team + stakeholders, but it’s “the team” that owns and develops the process of work.

This perspective is revolutionary for many, including many consultancies that still push “process improvement” à lá Taylor (you know which ones).

What’s better than Taylorism for developing our teams and organizations? 

That’s why I want to highlight this post in Lean.Org’s Lean Post blog: “Develop Your People Patiently Rather Than Rely on Super Taylorism”

As the article puts it: while the “west” was focused on separating the thinking from the doing, and using “Super Taylorism”,  “in Japan, Toyota was developing a different approach to strategy, one based on technical learning on the gemba through trial and error–a process that aimed to serve all customers with a broad product line of high quality and at the right price.”

Does that sound familiar? Scrum is exactly that kind of approach: “based on technical learning on the Gemba through trial and error”

Check out the post, and learn about the roots of Scrum and Agile. Don’t get stuck in a Tayloristic approach that leads to frustration, dis-enfranchising the team, and long term problems.

Help us grow as a Scrum Master community, share your best 2020 articles below.

Becoming a better Scrum Master by Manuel MĂĽller

I’ve been working on a collection of great blog posts about the Scrum Master role. If you have a favorite article on the Scrum Master role, or it’s goals and responsibilities, let me know by submitting it here:

Manuel MĂĽller is the author of Scrum Master that Matters – You

Manuel Müller wrote an article back in 2017 that reminded me of how important it is to keep tabs on our own personal development. He named the article “You”, which I think is a great title for what’s coming next. Are you puzzled by how you can be a better Scrum Master? How you can have more impact on your team and organization? Read on!

A Scrum Master That Matters

The Scrum Master role is not an easy role to take. After all, you’ve got a lot of responsibility, and none of the authority! (At least most Scrum Masters are in that situation.) So, how do you help your organization and your team in that situation? The answer is simple, but not easy: “you” have to focus on developing yourself!

Every team is new, and sometimes, even the old teams you thought you knew change! A new member comes in, and a team member goes out and everything changes!

10 Aspects For A Great Scrum Master

In this article, Manuel focuses on how we can develop ourselves as Scrum Masters, and be ready for that change. For any change. If you are interested, go on and read the whole article. For me, the most important highlights are:

  • Practice what you preach. Build your personal, Scrum Master role-related feedback loops, and keep on learning
  • Use conversations, not only as a way to advocate Agile and Scrum but as a deliberate tool to understand other people’s perspectives. Remember, you are there to help teams, and individuals succeed on their own!
  • Constantly reflect and learn about yourself. To be a better Scrum Master, knowing yourself is the most important asset you have. When you understand yourself, you learn to think before acting, and you are able to act deliberately, with a goal in mind, and the serenity to collect feedback, learn, and adjust. Never stop learning about yourself!

Manuel’s article is from 2017 but it is as relevant today as it was back then! What are the articles you read in 2020 that influenced you? Share those with me, and I’ll share those with the community here on the blog!

Help us grow as a Scrum Master community, share your best 2020 articles below.

Bootstrapping an working agreement with a Scrum team by Jimmy Jalén

I’ve been working on a collection of great blog posts about the Scrum Master role. If you have a favorite article on the Scrum Master role, or it’s goals and responsibilities, let me know by submitting it here:

Jimmy JanlĂ©n’s post on setting up working agreements with your Scrum team

What’s a “working agreement”, Vasco? Good question! As a Scrum Master, one of the things I worry about is if the team members are aware of the (often implicit) agreements they have with each other.

Not having a clear picture of what we have agreed to, may lead to conflict as an outcome of missed expectations. Most commonly, it leads to bugs in the software, and delays in delivery.

So, how can working agreements help reduce bugs and eliminate delays? A simple example of this might be a working agreement like: “share bad news early, even before there are any indications of delays or other consequences”

This agreement, will help the team keep in mind the need to discuss and solve problems early, before they escalate. But, as a single agreement, this would not be enough for a team to work with.

Take It To The Team: The WorkingAgreements Workshop

As a Scrum Master, I also know that the team itself will have a more complete view of the agreements they need to work well together.

I have a few ideas, and will bring those up in our “working agreements workshop”, but it’s up to the team to define and ultimately put into practice those agreements!

In 2017, Jimmy Janlén published an article that helps you prepare a working agreements workshop. In this article, he describes what has worked for him when defining working agreements with teams. Jimmy also shares tips and guides for each of the sections of the workshop.

Jimmy defines the working agreement as capturing “the expectations we have on each other within the team when we collaborate and communicate. I’ve seen teams call it “Code of Conduct” or “Ways of Working”. I call it Working Agreement. You call it whatever makes sense for you.”

Check out the Working Agreements Workshop blogpost by Jimmy to learn more about working agreements, and to get a facilitation guide for his approach to this critical workshop.

Have you had working agreements workshops with your teams? Share below your insights and questions!

The Best Blog posts of 2020 On The Scrum Master Role: collecting the best blog posts from 2020, and you can help!

I’ve been working on a collection of great blog posts about the Scrum Master role. If you have a favorite article on the Scrum Master role, or it’s goals and responsibilities, let me know by submitting it here:

To start off this series, I’ll review a post by Gilberto (who’s been a guest here on the podcast), and submitted by Emmy (thanks Emmy!).

In this post, titled “Scrum for the people”, Gilberto explains how he got inspired to look at the Scrum Master role differently after reading  “Por un Scrum Popular” by Tobias Mayer and Alan Cyment (English version: The People’s Scrum by Tobia Mayer).

As Gilberto puts it: “It showed how noble, people-oriented and not at all selfish the profession could be”.

Gilberto laments the idea many have, that the “focus is to leave that role as soon as possible instead of growing and developing it.” And he comments: “This is not the Scrum role I signed for.”

I agree with Gilberto!

He then goes on to explain what the Scrum Master role is about for him, and highlights what he thinks defines a great Scrum Master.

He finishes the article with his own approach on how to become a “Scrum Master for the people”.

Gilberto’s article is an inspiring reminder of what the Scrum Master role can be when we put our energy and focus on becoming better in the service of others. The core aspect of being a Scrum Master!

What articles about the Scrum Master role inspired you during 2020? Let us know by submitting your favorite article below, and let’s build our own “The Best Blog Posts about the Scrum Master role from 2020” list! A list by Scrum Masters for Scrum Masters!

Holding space, a Scrum Master guide with links and tips

As a Scrum Master that studies, and constantly tries to improve your craft, you’ve probably heard (and even used) the phrase “hold the space”.
For (some) native English speakers, this phrase may be easy to grasp, but as a non-native speaker, I can vouch for the difficulty of understanding what this means in practice.
As a Scrum Master myself, however, this phrase is too important to dismiss as “insider talk”, so I want to share some links and tips about “holding the space” as a Scrum Master.
First, let me refer to a blog post at Stanford’s site by Linnea Ann Williams called “Holding Space: A Scrum Master Overview”. The blog post is about the role of the Scrum Master, but it is also about what it means to “hold the space”. My key takeaway from this blog post: As a Scrum Master I must help the team and the stakeholders create the conditions the team needs to perform (hold the space).

The basics of the Scrum Master role and the meaning of “holding space” 

But there’s a lot more about the meaning of “holding space”. Many of the aspects of that approach are in the Scrum Guide (PDF version from the year 2020 here), and some are well described in this blog post by Aditya Chourasiya, titled “Scrum Master – Roles and Responsibilities”. Aditya describes “holding space” as a set of responsibilities that include:
  • Shield teams from interruptions to optimize the outcome
  • Facilitate effective Scrum ceremonies
  • Help Product Owners develop a positive rapport with their team and accept him/her as a part of the family
  • Step back and let the team learn from its own experience – successes, and mistakes.
Aditya’s article gets into the very practical aspects of the role, and I find that approach very useful when defining my own approach to “holding space”.

Taking Holding Space all the way up to “11”: Open Space Technology as a school for Scrum Masters

Open Space Technology, is an approach that helps people find solutions to difficult problems by working together, collaborating on possible answers to those problems.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what we expect Scrum Masters to do when it comes to the teams and their search for a solution. We want Scrum Masters to help the team find a solution (or more) for a difficult problem, by collaborating inside the team, and with outside contributors, other teams, or stakeholders.
That brings me to another resource (WARNING: this is a book, not a blog post!): The Tao of Holding Space, a book by Chris Corrigan. This is a long read, and I don’t expect everyone to read it. So let me review some key takeaways from the book.
Chris is a seasoned Open Space Technology facilitator and often writes about facilitation at all levels and all kinds of organizations. Therefore he has a lot of experience to share on “holding the space” and what that means in practice.
One of the inspiring phrases from his book is right there in chapter 1, and I think it describes perfectly what the Scrum Master role is about: “Harrison Owen wrote that “holding space” is an act that is at once totally present and totally invisible”.
And the book goes on with inspiring phrases. In chapter 2, Chris writes: “Sitting in stillness invites [other] people to move.” This reminds us that when we don’t take action – as Scrum Masters – we are helping others “find the space” to express their own ability to lead and help the team.
In chapter 10, we are reminded of one of the key aspects of Open Space Technology: “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have”. This encourages us to work with what happens in the team, instead of trying to direct the team towards what we think is “the right thing”. Accepting what happens in the team, at every turn, is also part of “holding the space”


This is a short blog post about what “holding the space” is for Scrum Masters.
It has some very practical blog posts and a resource that inspires us to look at the activity of “holding space” from a different perspective: the Open Space Technology perspective.
“Holding the Space” is not just a phrase, it’s a very practical and pragmatic thing we do as Scrum Masters.
What is your approach to “holding the space”? Share your thoughts below!

In Their Shoes: From negotiating for a rock band to negotiating frictionless contracts, an #ExtremeContracts principle

This is a guest blog post by Jacopo Romei. Author of the Italian version of the book #ExtremeContracts, and author of an upcoming book on the same topic in English.

Being part of an underground band is not easy. You are weak in every aspect of your business model. You have no stable audience, you have very thin revenues, you have to accommodate your “real life” needs and, above all, organizing gigs is a nightmare. Trying to negotiate a good deal with the owner of a club you like can be very, very hard. This is the story of how putting yourself in their shoes could make a better negotiation strategy.

Trying to negotiate a good deal with the owner of a club you like can be very, very hard for a rock band. This is how to create a better negotiation strategy.

Since 2003 I have been part of Anonima Armonisti, an a cappella band: no instruments, voices only. After the first few years setting up our repertoire and fine-tuning our live show, in 2007 our popularity had a boost. While the band was still in a niche, a few TV appearances, a few performances in some important theaters, and a couple of published records made us quite known across Italy, to the point of being featured in the Italian edition of Rolling Stone magazine in 2012.

Despite this success, though, the majority of our concerts were still taking place in clubs. In 2009 alone, we were on stage 44 times and the relationship with the club owners had become critical for the survival of our band. The sustainability of our activity was totally dependent on their decisions: they were the ones who paid us, who gave us a stage, who provided the sound system and the right structure to make our concerts possible and enjoyable for an audience that sometimes reached a thousand people.

The relationship with the club owners had become critical for the survival of our band.

The negotiation with them usually happened along a fixed sequence of steps. We had to find, and introduce ourselves to the owners of the clubs where we wanted to perform. 

The club owners—no matter how loyal our growing audience had become over the years—insisted on us providing a guaranteed minimum number of attendees. Worse: reaching those minimum audience numbers usually became a condition to get paid after the show, as the club owner wanted to keep the freedom to cut or suspend our fee in case of a turnout below their expectations. 

At that point, after the fee was set, we started trying to schedule the concert, looking for a date that was suitable for the seven band members and the club itself. From then on, it was all about promoting the gig and hoping we could bring a big-enough audience to enjoy the performance, otherwise we would have to perform and wouldn’t get paid!

Their problem is a part of our problem

The negotiation process felt like pushing a rock uphill with the constant threat of having it roll over us. It was the opposite of a lean process!

  1. Finding the right place, taking into account space, the stage, the sound system, and the geographical position according to our goals and how easy it was to get to the venue.
  2. Actually begging to schedule a date, giving the club owners many guarantees and not getting any from them. I often wondered about this: wasn’t having people attend the gig a shared interest between us and the club owner?
  3. Negotiating a fair fee, that matched the true value generated by our performance, both for the audience and for the club owner.
  4. A cumbersome process to find a good date among us singers and then negotiate that date into the club’s schedule.
  5. Struggling to gather an audience for that date, now become a Damocles Spade hanging over our heads. An important football match could be enough to spoil our party and leave us with an empty club.
  6. Performing.
  7. (Struggling to) Be paid.

I was then looking for a different negotiation process that may be more streamlined, less prone to failure, more linear, in one word I wanted to negotiate Anonima Armonisti’s gigs in a way that would allow us to delay commitment until we were sure the most important risk was covered, for us, and the club owner. In short, the lean way.

I was looking for a lean negotiation process

I wanted the agreement to guarantee us:

  • More options about the club, according to many variables, especially size.
  • A fee correlated to our music and how much our fans liked it, not to the amount of people collected. We are a band, not a PR agency!
  • A compensation proportional to the audience size, for better or worse, through thick and thin.
  • The chance to schedule the date with less friction.
  • Zero risks of singing in front of an empty room.
  • Certainty to be paid, with no exposure to last-minute surprises and the owner’s attempts to shave the price down a bit.

At that point, I realized that it made no sense to pursue only our needs without acknowledging the club owners’ needs. I thought that maybe I could use their needs as a True North towards my own goals. As someone said before me, I had to find a way to help them to help me. So I started making assumptions on… their assumptions.

Probably these were their needs:

  • Zero risk of losing money by having us perform to an empty room. A club only has a fixed amount of available dates per year. It is crucial for them to maximize the generated value per single day and the audience is the main driver for them to reach this goal.
  • Making sure that their revenue—basically selling drinks and maybe food—stayed independent from the quality of our show. They usually want people to be entertained while they spend money eating and drinking so the owners perceive the artist’s fee just as a cost to be capped as low as possible. Given that, our interests were not aligned until we were able to separate their revenue from our revenue.
  • The opportunity to schedule the gigs on a date that suits the club’s calendar, with enough time notice. Concerts have to be scheduled way ahead of the actual date, to increase the chance to build a substantial audience, and club owners were looking for peace of mind by literally building an inventory of gigs further into the future. 
  • No revenue share for the artist. Their bar-generated money stays theirs, while the artists get a fixed fee agreed upfront or, if the money is linked to the size of the audience, its amount is capped to a maximum. There has to be no open upside for the artists, they are a commodity because running a club is far riskier.

All these needs are legitimate. Dismissing them would not lead to a successful agreement in which they only care about setting up a nice venue and serving good drinks and food, we only focus on music and the performance, and everybody cares about the number of people attending the concert. How could we design and set up an agreement to take care of all this?

A new approach to selling our live performances

At the end of 2014, building on top of my experience with a few start-ups trying to validate their business models and strongly influenced by Steve Blank, I had an idea that returned interesting results.

Without even alerting my fellow bandmates about my intentions, I asked them whether they were all free on some date in the following months. Then, I chose the first date that suited all of us and asked them all to keep it free. At this point, I started assuming we would have a concert in Milan on that day. Milan was perfect for the experiment because it is a big enough city. We had many fans there, having already been primed by two or three concerts in local clubs. And I was also attracted by a few fans who had been requesting us to play in their town for a long time.

I chose a popular ticket platform that I had experience with, from selling tickets to more or less nerd-ish conferences and meetups I had helped to organize. Not even knowing what club we would be performing in, I started pre-selling 100 tickets at a very low price, on the set date. I promised the buyers that in case we had missed a given goal within the first few weeks, I would give the money back, no questions asked.

Not even knowing what club we would be performing in, I started pre-selling 100 tickets at a very low price.

After having sold the first 100 tickets two months ahead of the scheduled date and with a 50-person waiting list, I started scouting for a good club in Milan with the following pitch for the owners of the most interesting clubs: “I’ve got 100 people who already bought the ticket for our show on this date. Fifty more people asked me for tickets and are waiting for us to confirm the event. We still have three months to go and I don’t want a dime from you. If you let us perform on your stage, we bring them all to drink at your bar”.

I still remember how loud the high-five was! In no time, we had a scheduled gig and now we also had a deal with a very nice club with a very nice stage.

I still remember how loud the high-five was! In no time, we had a scheduled gig and now we also had a deal with a very nice club with a very nice stage. We opened the box office again and we ended up selling hundreds of tickets! Win (for us), win (for the club owners), win (for the audience)! This was what my Extreme Contracts approach delivered: a triple win! No pain, no upfront risks (for anyone!), and a scheduled date for a top club in Milan.

By changing the order of the steps in the process we had changed the result. Our new process for setting up a concert in a top club looked like this:

  1. An exhausting internal negotiation to find a suitable date was not needed anymore. Picking up the first free date at the intersection of our calendars was enough.
  2. The search for an audience was not on the critical path anymore. Damocles was freed from his spade and not finding an audience just started meaning canceling a tentative date and refunding the initial buyers.
  3. We were earning money without begging. Those buying a ticket from us in advance were doing so because they really wanted to attend our show and, not a small thing, they were sure they would get their money back in case of a cancellation.
  4. We were getting paid in advance (the tickets were pre-sold), with no loss exposure for us even for expenses and rehearsals, and we were no longer afraid of being paid less or nothing in the end.
  5. We were performing in the right clubs, from all points of view, no room wasted nor the risk to invite too many people. Finally, we were able to introduce ourselves to the club owners having the upper hand in the negotiation: “hey man, I’ve got some value in the vault and it’s my vault. Do you want a share?”

Once we found the club, we were left with the pleasure of performing in front of an audience that was there for us and deserved to be entertained.

What about the owners’ needs? Were we taking care of them this way? Or not? 

Our solution is their solution

This process puts the owners’ needs at the center of the solution. Each of their needs was addressed because we tried to think how they thought and we tried to feel what they felt: we walked in their shoes.

This process puts the owners’ needs at the center of the solution. Each of their needs was addressed because we tried to think how they thought and we tried to feel what they felt: we walked in their shoes.

Let’s see this in detail:

  1. They took no risks of an empty club. A club only had to commit for a date which all the audience—or at least a minimum number of people—had already shown commitment for. This was much better than hoping to see people attending a concert.
  2. They could decouple their drinks-and-food business from the quality of our show. We might even have proved to be unable to perform live and the maximum impact for the club owner would be the decision not to let us perform again. But the single date, that single first date was secured. No exposure for them, an audience that would drink and eat no matter the quality of the show, and the free option to renew the partnership with us or let us go.
  3. The gigs were scheduled on a set date, with no ambiguity and no need to wait for its confirmation: it was all set! The show was only scheduled when there was already a “minimum viable audience” for it. We had the audience that had committed to attend by paying in advance, and we had a clear date in the calendar. No room was left for fluctuations. The owners could rely on a filled slot in their schedule.
  4. No interference with their revenues. We were not asking for shared revenues, we were not linking our finance to theirs. We had our money, coming from our fans’ love for our music, they had theirs, coming from the quality of their service, drinks, and food.

All of a sudden, everything had turned for the better, the negotiation had become frictionless. This is the keyword: frictionless. You don’t want to feel like pushing a rock uphill every time you meet a new customer or a new supplier. You don’t want to spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and enthusiasm for every single negotiation. You want it to flow naturally, easily. As Ury and Fisher state in their bestseller “Getting to Yes”, the best negotiation process is the one that takes care of the substance of the agreement, sure, but still preserving efficiency and a good relationship between the parties. In one word, keeping it frictionless. 

One of the best ways to get there is to focus on the negotiation process on the needs of the other party so that we design and make them accept an effective solution while we serve our needs. Extreme Contracts practitioners call this principle In Their Shoes.

Here’s Jacopo and the band with the amazing a capella cover for Disturbia