#086: Gabe Abella: Achieving Organizational and Team Agility with Kanban and the Fit For Purpose Framework

#086: Gabe Abella: Achieving Organizational and Team Agility with Kanban and the Fit For Purpose Framework

How is work changing and how do we design organizations to be fit for purpose in the knowledge and collaboration economy? How do we form and equip teams to balance capability with infinite demand? How do we coach teams for emergence? Tune in this week’s episode of The Team Coaching Zone podcast where host Dr. Krister Lowe explores these and other compelling questions with featured guest Gabe Abella–an Organizational Coach and Vice President in Global Technology at JP Morgan Chase and an accredited Kanban trainer.

Themes covered in the podcast include:

  • Gabe’s journey from project and program manager to organizational coach
  • Fundamental shifts occurring in how we approach and organize work in the knowledge and collaboration economy
  • Understanding 3 Natures: 1) the nature of the work the team is doing, 2) the nature of the organization, 3) the nature of the environment/market
  • The infinite backlog and the finite team: balancing capability with demand
  • Kanban – Lean; visual management system; seeing the flow of work; “look at the board” or signal card; an improvement method
  • Problem-solving as a biological process: iterative cycles and learning
  • The invisibility of knowledge work
  • Collocated vs. distributed teams
  • Team formation for organizational realignments
  • Skills vs. roles and motivation in team formation
  • Being invisible as a team coach
  • Use of simulation prior to engaging in real work in order to reduce learning anxiety
  • Fitness for Purpose Framework
  • Diffusion of Innovation
  • Flow Lab – experiential simulation to overcome efficiency mindset and more
  • Reflections on the ongoing coaching of teams and scaling agile
  • Implications of agile coaching for non-software teams
  • Coaching for emergence
  • Tons of great resources for team coaches and more!

The Agile movement is disrupting organizations and our approaches to working, learning and teaming.  All team coaches need to increase their own agility and to be fit for purpose themselves in order to compete in the knowledge and collaboration economy.  Tune in to this episode and let Gabe Abella help you elevate your team coaching game today!

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Resources Mentioned

  1. Connect with Gabe Abella on LinkedIn , @GabeKanbanIQ on Twitter , or email
  2. Visit Lean Kanban University to learn about the Kanban Method, Alternate Path to Agility, Enterprise Services Planning, and become a Kanban Coaching Professional.
  3. Read real-life Case Studies about how the Kanban Method has helped companies increase collaboration, improve flow, respond to the market, and introduce evolutionary change among other benefits.
  4. Subscribe to the Lean Kanban newsletter and get notified when the book Fit For Purpose is available for purchase.
  5. Read articles about the Fit For Purpose Framework by David J Anderson on Market Segmentation and Fitness Box Scores.
  6. Connect with David J Anderson, originator of the Kanban Method and Enterprise Services Planning, and co-author of Fit For Purpose @lki_dja on Twitter.
  7. Connect with Lean Kanban thought leader and co-author of Fit for Purpose Alexei Zhegelov on LinkedIn and @az1 on Twitter.
  8. Download the free book Essential Kanban Condensed by David J Anderson and Andy Carmichael to learn more about the Kanban Method.
  9. Watch Gabe Abella’s presentation at Lean Kanban North America Conference 2017.  Owner’s Manual for Self-Organizing Teams inspired by the work of J Richard Hackman and Ruth Wageman on the Team Effectiveness Model, Theory of Team Coaching, and the Team Diagnostic Survey.
  10. Hackman, J.R. (2002). Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances.
  11. Wageman, R., Nunes, D. A., Burruss, J. A., & Hackman, J. R. (2007). Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes to Make Them Great (Canadian ed edition). Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press.
  12. Read Ruth Wagemans’s article on
  13. The Team Diagnostic Survey and the 60-30-10 Rule for Coaching Teams13.Read the description and access the presentation materials for Gabe Abella and Adam Hsu’s session at Agile Alliance 2017 Conference.  Self-Forming Teams:  A Facilitators Guide to Transforming the Organization and Culture.
  14. Listen to Agile Answers Podcast with Adam Weisbart. Episode 19 (May 3rd, 2017) How do we form new Scrum Teams?  with guests Gabe Abella, Adam Hsu, Jason Newberg, and Natalie Veilleux.
  15. Adam Hsu speaking at Lean Kanban North America Conference 2017.   Crossing the Chasm with Kanban at JPMorgan Chase.
  16. Connect with Adam Hsu on LinkedIn and @Kanbanese on Twitter or email
  17. Add Okaloa FlowLab to your coaching capability to stimulate flow thinking through highly engaging business simulations.
  18. Connect with flow thought leader and Okaloa FlowLab creator Patrick Steyaert on LinkedIn and @PatrickSteyaert on Twitter.
  19. Get Klaus Leopold’s excellent book Practical Kanban (2017) to learn about Kanban Flight Levels and other great topics.
  20. Try SwiftKanban now, a feature rich and intuitive Kanban software.


Part 1 – Getting to know the Team Coach

  • Organizational Coach & VP in Global Technology at JP Morgan Chase
  • Studied electrical engineering, left engineering for Anderson Consulting (Accenture) for where he worked for 13 years
  • Moved to JP Morgan Chase in Tampa, Florida in 2010
    • Started as a project manager in technology, then began researching quality, which lead him to agile
    • Realized that we have to look at work at the way it is vs the century old beliefs that we are programmed with

Part 2 – Approach to Team Coaching

  • Works with teams to meeting this criteria first:
  1. Understand the nature of the work
    • Is it mechanistic? Is it creative?
  2. Understand the nature of the organization
    • Are the roots of the organization built on reductionistic thinking vs learning mindset?
  3. Understand the nature of the environment
    • What is the organization’s market like?
  • Common team experiences:
    • The “infinite backlog” & “finite team” – Teams that don’t know how to balance capability with demand.
    • “Irrefutable demand” – Teams have a hard time saying no to work
    • Comes from an efficiency mindset
  • You cannot push work onto a person, team, or system
  • Knowledge work is solving problems. If you apply efficiency mindset to knowledge work, you overburden person, and problem is not being solved well
  • Knowledge work is invisible because it does not show up on your inventory
  • Teaches scrum to teams
  • Uses Kanban approach – visual management system
    • To understand where quality improvement is needed
    • Applies ideas of lean to knowledge work
    • As a way to introduce change and sustain it
    • To make the team more fit for purpose
  • Uses different platforms for collaboration to express work visually
  • Creates a simulation before a team launch to identify the coaching approach with reduced anxiety
  • Facilitates a 1-day team launch – for self-formation of teams
    • Self-selection around skills (not roles)
    • Teams work together for the rest of week to understand the needs of the customer and they practice techniques of shared understanding which creates team cohesion and accelerates learning
    • Then learning journey starts
    • They are lead to self-coach and the team coaches can back away
  • During the last phase, the coaches become a resource group and provide support without colluding
  • “Fitness for purpose” framework –are the team’s provided services fit for the customers that are consuming them? How might you evolve to ensure that you are relevant to changes in the external environment?
  • “Fit for purpose” if you satisfy these 3 components of team service:
    • Design – what do you want the team to be known for?
    • Implementation – how are you going to become what you want to become?
    • Service delivery – how will you deliver your service?
  • Understanding market segmentation is important. 3 types of customers –
    • Innovators – consume product just because it is new
    • Influencers – others follow their behavior when consuming product
    • Box-checkers – motivated extrinsically to have service, even if they don’t believe in it
  • Teach this framework to clients and use this framework within his own team
  • Seek feedback from customers with “Fitness for purpose” box score
    • As a result, they transformed teaching with experiential learning
    • Brings in a previous client to discuss with current client lessons learned
  • Agility is a tool not a goal and applies to all types of teams
  • You are not scaling agile, you are scaling beliefs and behaviors
  • There is no grand design, organizations are complex systems that cannot be predicted
  • Coaching is about accepting emergence and become comfortable with uncertainty
  • Jazz metaphor – improvising within a team is like magic

Part 3 – Closing / Parting Advice / Words of Wisdom

  • See recommended resources
  • What is his purpose? Gabe has two beautiful girls who are in Montessori school. Read about Montessori education if you want to learn about intrinsic motivation. He wants to be able to create a workplace for his children that is rewarding and respectful, to live in a world where we don’t have to unlearn what we learned in school

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