I was chatting with some colleagues the other day and the topic of agile maturity came up. Particularly for Technology Leaders who are inquiring about agile approaches.
These could be leaders who are new to agile and want to start the transformation OR leaders who are currently engaged in a transformation and looking for assistance.
The questions were around, how to tell IF:
- Do they truly “get” or understand agility?
- Are they really “ready” for it?
- Are they serious about it?
- Are they a good candidate for a coaching engagement?
- And, are they properly aligned with the principles of the coaching/consulting firm?
Some of the questions focused towards money. In fact, quite a few of them. Questions here were around budgets, the contractual/approval process, and payment terms.
I was almost embarrassed to admit that these are not forefront in my mind when I’m engaging clients. My feeling is that they sort of take care of themselves. What I care more about is how I perceive the Inspection Report - February 2017 client’s answers to the first set of questions AND how do they align with my own principles.
For several years, I was heavily involved in running Scrum Alliance Coaching Retreats. I probably attended 5-6 of them over time. And they filled a necessary niche where folks who were in agile coaching roles could gather together and share ideas and challenges.
But the format of the events was focused towards running small projects as Scrum teams. You can read more about that here.
Well, last week I attended my first Agile Coach Camp – US in New York City. It ran from Friday evening to mid-day on Sunday. And it was held at the Spotify offices. It was run as an Open Space.
I was writing another blog post about the lack of an agile engagement having a cohesive coaching team and it dawned on me that I’ve never shared what an agile coaching team might look like.
Given that inspiration, I thought I’d spend a few minutes discussing aspects of creating (finding, forming, and building) a great team of coaches for a larger-scale, agile transformation initiative.
I honestly don’t know where the quote comes from, but I’ve heard that in order for you to become a great leader, you need first to become a great follower. That by following, and putting on the mindset of service, you better understand leadership.
I attended an agile coach’s gathering about a year or more ago. It was a “coaching the coaches” session and it was very valuable. But an aspect of it has stuck with me ever since. One that I’ve mulled over and over and would like to share.
There were a group of coaches in attendance from the same client engagement, a large, multi-billion-dollar organization that had been going Agile for a couple of years.
When they decided to go agile, one of the first things the client did was reach out to an agile coaching firm for help. On the surface, that sounds like a good thing to do. However, the firm was largely staff augmentation focused, so that was their background and comfort zone.
I’ve been doing more pairing lately. Much more.
I’ve been trying it in my conference workshops and talks. Pairing with Mary Thorn quite a bit on the agile quality and testing side of things. I’m also pairing with Josh Anderson on our Meta-cast and I’ve done a few presentations with him. Very enjoyable.
I’ve also been pairing more in my writing. For years, I’ve been a lone wolf writer. Nobody but myself saw my writing before it entered the light of day. But now, I’m learning the value of having reviewers and editors. Second opinions matter. A second set of eyes matter. And having a partner in your endeavors can be quite a bit of fun.
An example of this is Mary Thorn being my “Chief Story Teller” in my 3-Pillars book. We had a blast writing the book and her stories complimented my own experiences to give readers two sides to many coins.
Tanner Wortham is a ScrumMaster and coach who I’ve quoted on this blog before. He recently wrote a blog post entitled: When Can a ScrumMaster Say No which I read with interest.
I’ve been sharing of late around the notion of more prescriptive coaching stances and, at least in my mind, this seeps into the role of ScrumMaster. So I wanted to hear what Tanner had to say.
Here’s a snippet from the article:
[…] Doing away with the sprint review simply ignores the problem. Help the team experiment with new ways to conduct the review but that align with the intent. Over time, they will find their solution. At no point did we have to say no. In fact, we should avoid it. I believe our responsibility is to understand and to guide. Rarely is it to deny.
Even so, I occasionally encountered two situations where I’ll say no as a Scrum Master:
I read an article on LinkedIn by Ewan O'Leary that really, really resonated with me.
I fell in love with his list. Mostly because it shined a light on my own journey and the work I need to do each and every day to become a better, more present, and more connected coach.
#5 is an area where I often fall down in my journey. I sometimes use the term "that's not Agile" in my coaching, passing judgment and elevating agile above everything else. I need to stop that. I also continuously check on #8 as I engage so many people and contexts as a leading agile coach.
Anyway, without further adieu, here's the list:
- I believe in the innate value and potential of all human beings.
- I believe that Agile is a mindset that orients me towards human excellence.
- I believe that my own transformation is the path to transforming others, transforming organizations and transforming the world.
- I believe that I should do no harm, and wherever possible, improve psychological safety.
- I believe I should avoid judgement of others who I may feel are operating from a different developmental level.
- I embrace my own authenticity and share it in connection with others except where my authenticity may create unsafe conditions for them.
- I believe that I am oriented towards using my capability for good in the world.
- I practice humility and compassion, with a focus on kindness, recognizing my own shadow as it shows up in the work I do with others.
- I honor and respect each individual as the author of their own journey, free from manipulation or coercion.
- When I fail to adhere to these principles, I acknowledge my failure and its impact on others and harness it for my own development.
I am a Professional Agile Coach
I want to strongly encourage you to read Ewan's post and the comments it's received. There are great insights there as well.
And even though I'm continuously working on the list in my coaching and personal journey, I do believe: I am a Professional Agile Coach.
Stay agile my friends!
There is an old, old movie called the Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman. In it, there is a compelling scene where the evil doer continues to ask Hoffman – “Is it safe?” while giving him a free dental checkup.
You can watch the scene here, if you’re up to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzw1_2b-I7A
There seems to be several things that are incredibly difficult for many folks to do.
You see it in general, but it’s particularly interesting in agile contexts. Agile Teams seem to rarely want to:
- Ask for help
- Or say, I don’t know
I’m wondering why?
I was inspired for this article by the same titled blog post from Simon Nadav Cohen that you can find here: https://labs.spotify.com/2016/05/13/to-coach-or-not-to-coach/
In the article, Simon speaks to his experience of overusing the “coaching stance” in his agile coaching interactions and showing that more nuance is often required. I wanted to explore it even more from an additional context – that of leadership coaching. But let me start out here…
The 5 Why’s
Are you aware of the 5 Why’s tool? It’s a lean technique for getting to the root cause of a problem or challenge. You keep asking why, five times in fact, in order to “peel the onion” of a problem and get to the root.
I submitted a talk to the North America Scrum Gathering this year that made me a bit nervous. It was entitled – Why the World Needs More Prescriptive Agile Coaches. And I was intentional with the title.
I’ve felt for quite a long time that agile coaching can be too soft, at least in the beginning with Shu-level (beginning) agile teams. Coaches are taught to never TELL teams what to do or be forceful in any way. At best, they might “hint” at a tactic or solution, but the real learning and evolution is “up to the team”.
Consider this the default coaching stance for the majority of agile coaches.
And while I understand it, I wanted to get the audience thinking differently in this session. And yes, see what the outcome might be. Does it resonate well OR do I get some tomatoes thrown at me was the question.