A conversation with Brandon Raines, CEC, CTC, CAL Educator, ORSCC
For Brandon Raines, strong connection is integral to Agile practice. As an Organization Design and Enterprise coach, he incorporates Scrum, xP and Lean principles to provide higher value, while Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™) gives him tangible tools and a vocabulary to foster relationship in teams.
In a career which has included stints in development, testing, project management and architecture, Brandon's clients have ranged from commercial entities to federal government teams.
In addition to being an ORSC Certified coach, Brandon holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Morehouse College. He is a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Practitioner and Certified Enterprise Coach with the Scrum Alliance, and also trained with the Disney Institute in Customer Relationship. Brandon is a noted author and speaker on topics of leadership, organization design, and teamwork.
In this conversation, Brandon discusses why kindness is a guiding principle, how a French culinary term relates to Agile practice, and the ways that ORSC has proved useful in his personal life.
If Brandon were to define his purpose, it would be:
When people are really excited about the mission or purpose behind what they're doing, that gets me really jazzed. I feel that energy - people coming into work every single day, being really excited about working together on what they're trying to do. In my small way, I get to contribute to doing something really good for humanity.
On his superpower
Product development is hard, and people working together can be hard. There's lots of complexity. I try to make complex concepts more accessible, so that folks can focus in on the actual work.
Those things that we are told as kids - how we treat each other, small acts of kindness, and kindness in general - that’s a guiding force for me and how I operate in the world. I stress to my kids - I just want you to be kind human beings. Operating from a place of kindness is important.
Hooked on software development
Right now, I work really heavily in the information technology space, building software products. I spend a lot of time there as an Agile coach, helping product development teams and organizations to work better with each other.
My real roots are as a software developer. That's where I started, and it's still my first love.
I was in middle school, probably in sixth or seventh grade, and my mom sent me to this summer camp. A seriously nerdy summer camp. We were plopped down in front of an Apple II and taught how to program. From that point, I was hooked. I took every opportunity to learn about technology and software development. I had internships in high school, learning how to code effectively, and I was a computer science major in school.
As a software developer, I started to become aware of Agile. That mindset, those practices and principles really sang to me as a way of being. Once I became aware of it, I tried to bring Agile into every client space. It was the way that I wanted to work.
Eventually I was asked to help others do it, and to start coaching it. I had no idea what that meant. But I said I can surely show what we've been doing on projects that I've been involved with, and if it helps folks to have a better way of working both in the customer space and for the development teams, then I've helped in some small way to make things better.
That was almost 15 years ago.
Five or six years ago, I noticed that the Agile coaches that I was hanging out with were talking about professional coaching. I'm one of those continuous learners. If it sounds interesting, I'll try it.
ORSC sounded intriguing - a skillset that would lend itself really well to Agile coaching. I decided to take Fundamentals. In that first class, it was like - I get it. I get why this is helpful and how it relates to Agile coaching.
The practices and principles of Agile are great, but they only go so far. What I found with ORSC was the extra humanity - how to work with each other - that I’d been missing. Tangible tools and vocabulary that made sense.
On his favorite ORSC tools
I'm a big fan of one of the first tools that we learned, the Designed Team Alliance or DTA. I use it all the time. There’s real magic to having folks intentionally sit down and talk about a set of expectations and how they want to be with each other. I constantly get the reaction - “Wow, we've never done this before.” People find it to be refreshing.
Another would be Bringing Down the Vision. I love that tool. I remember going through it in the classes, and it was funny because I couldn’t see how I would ever use it - and then I did. Just the other day I used it with a pretty large group. It was really successful in the conversations that it generated.
Using ORSC in an Agile context
At times, I introduce a tool or competency which needs more explanation. I have to warm up the crowd, if you will. With one group, we explored the Metaskills before we actually went into the DTA. It gave them much more language. Then they were comfortable in easing into the DTA and connecting there.
I make adjustments, sometimes on the fly and sometimes in the preparation. What's been really helpful for me is the skillset that we use in assessing different systems. In every group that I work with, I’m assessing to see what's there and what the group is warmed up to do.
Advice from the culinary world
I love food. Eating in restaurants is like a hobby, and I find myself studying that industry a lot.
There’s a concept in the cooking world called mise en place - everything in its place. Before you start cooking, you have a plan. You prepare your different ingredients. That just seems to pop up over and over for me. How do I set up so that I feel more comfortable and prepared for whatever the task is? It's a settling thing for me, a comfort thing, something that leads to more success.
On what lights him up
I find myself spending a lot of time mentoring and helping others. As the world was raging in a lot of different areas last year - whether that was the pandemic or social justice - I came to understand that there were many people of color in the United States and across the globe who were in this Agile space along with me and didn't have mentors. That was something that made me really sad. As a black man in the Agile space, my thought was that I should help. I should do something. I should offer myself. Since then, I've tried to be more intentional about mentoring and helping in that space. That's been a wonderful source of light for me.
Even just getting to know folks and bringing others in from the larger community. Seeing and hearing that everybody wants to be involved in making the space better - it’s been fantastic and I’ve loved every moment.
I started a mentoring group that's been going on for more than a year now, and I’ve been an active participant in two or three other mentoring groups. Folks will see a post, or see that I’m involved in this or that, and reach out to me individually.
There’s real magic in creating a space where people can intentionally explore each other’s perspectives. How can they work with each other, interact with each other and be with each other? Some very cool stuff happens as a result of those kinds of conversations. My hope is that we can leverage it in an even larger way, with some of the big problems that we face as human beings. Recognizing each other's humanity has a really, really special place.
On his heroes
The person that always comes up for me is John Lewis. Dearly departed John Lewis, the congressman from Georgia. That man spent a lifetime trying to do good, trying to make humanity better. I just absolutely adored him and hung on every word that he said. His actions over the course of a lifetime were just amazing.
His idea of good trouble - that always resonated with me. It always feels like a challenge to get in good trouble - to do some good and not to be afraid of getting in a little bit of trouble while doing it, particularly if it's in a good cause. So he's number one for me.
I have deep admiration for people who choose to stand in the line of fire, literally or figuratively, in order to make the world a better place. Folks in the armed forces, frontline workers, teachers - the teachers! With virtual learning, those of us who are parents had a heavy dose of that last year, seeing what teachers do on a day-to day-basis. I was a terrible third-grade teacher, and very appreciative when my kids went back to school.
On his current influences
It's a dangerous question for me, because I'm a huge media consumer. I’ll give a shout-out to my former cohort member, Katie Churchman. She's got a great podcast on all things ORSC with Relationship Matters. It's fantastic. I love what she presents in terms of what ORSC is and how it relates to the world. Neil Edwards has a fantastic podcast too. Every time I hear Neil talk, I learn a ton.
I love sports, and also love hearing two people debate something, whether they agree or disagree. There's a podcast and a TV show called Pardon the Interruption that I watch every single day. It's sports-themed, but it really is about how two people who are very different can have a sensible argument about something and then go out to dinner afterwards.
People disagree. A little bit of creative conflict is okay, but how we talk with each other and how we argue with each other and debate with each other is important too. Allowing folks to leave those arguments and debates with their humanity intact - maybe we learn a little bit from each other. We don't always have to agree on every single point. Sometimes there's agreement and sometimes there's not, but we can still be good human beings to each other.
I just picked up Brené Brown’s recent book, Atlas of the Heart. I heard her interview, this exploration of emotions. It sounds terribly interesting to me. I was a huge fan of Mr. Rogers when I was growing up, and still am now. His life’s work - we could be better as human beings, if we can understand and describe our emotions, and how to relate with to them. So I'm terribly interested in reading Brené’s book.
One that I just put down is Everybody Matters. It talks about conscious capitalism, where we can actually treat each other well, and still be in a capitalist system. I really relate to that model.
On taking ORSC beyond Agile
I identify first as a dad and as a husband. Those three people really are most important in my life. I view it as a job. There's joy to it, but it is a job I take really seriously - trying to raise two human beings to be good human beings.
At the beginning of COVID, we sat down and effectively did a DTA - “All right. This might get rough and when that happens, what are we going to do, kiddos?” They really leaned into it. We ended up writing our DTA down and putting it on the refrigerator. It’s still there.
When the woman who is now my wife started living with us, we talked with her about it and updated it. So yes, it's permeated my personal life.
I’ve found myself now coaching outside of Agile - romantic relationships, a married couple, a public advocacy group. I'm having a lot of fun, and I'm really, thankful and grateful to have learned about this mode of coaching.
Listening or watching
CRR Global podcast | Relationship Matters podcast
EPSN podcast | Pardon the Interruption
Neil Edwards's Living Corporate podcast | The Leadership Range
Video summary | Everybody Matters
Brené Brown | Atlas of the Heart
Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia | Everybody Matters
Brandon's website | shokuninllc.com
Want to connect with Brandon? Get in touch via his LinkedIn profile.
Want to learn more about pairing ORSC with Agile?