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Agile Coaching

Do you need an Army of Agile Coaches?

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Do you need an Army of Agile Coaches?

Let me start by saying that all organizations aspiring to be agile need an agile coaching presence. But the question is how many, for how long, and how much?  

I’ve seen many organizations that invest too heavily in coaching and keep the coaches around for far too long. This often creates a dependency on the coaches and really doesn’t help the organization’s growth.

I came upon this article around 2016 that explained how one group at Walmart approached creating an internal agile coaching capacity. What strikes me about it is how lean it is. And how it leverages the entire organization for what is essentially self-coaching.

Anyway, I thought I’d share it. I don’t think many are aware of this approach and it’s a thought-provoking alternative to many of today’s strategies.

Wrapping Up

One of the things I appreciate about this article is the author’s willingness to share—what works for them. It may not work for every organization, but it’s a real-world approach that produced results.

And on a personal note, is that this strategy aligns with my own. Instead of embedding oodles of coaches for long periods of time, it confirms that you can make great progress with a more situational approach. Not only that, the results may be even greater than applying an entire army of coaches to the effort.

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

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Agile Coaching Hypothetical

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Agile Coaching Hypothetical

My colleague and friend, Daniel Mezick, posed the following hypothetical on LinkedIn in September 2019 –  

You are an independent Agile coach, visiting a potential client with 1500 employees. It's obvious that the intelligent, well-meaning executive that is interviewing you does not really understand that employee engagement is essential to success in transformation. His org wants to "roll out" imposed Agile practices. They plan to use this big, huge framework. They already decided.

With all the training and everything else, it's looking like about 200K coming your way over the next 8 months if you get this account. But you are 100% sure it's the wrong approach. And if you say so, you figure there is a 60% chance your concerns will be lost in translation. And you know you have no more than 45 minutes with this executive. So, you sit there, intently listening to his story, and pondering what it means to "do the right thing." There are 25 minutes left at this meeting. And you know some other consulting firms who are good at marketing will also be interviewed as service providers for this engagement. You realize it's now or never. And you are not too happy about this... 

Link to the post - https://www.linkedin.com/posts/danielmezick_you-are-an-independent-agile-coach-visiting-activity-6577891855055241216-oU7Y

As of September 16th, the post had received +20k views, 158 reactions, and 116 comments. Which is astounding to me.

Clearly, it’s created a buzz and generated reactions, which is probably why Dan posed it in the first place. I’m thinking he wanted to post a hypothetical that was open to interpretation and representative of a common agile coaching dilemma.

I wanted to weigh-in. Not as a way of directly responding to the scenario. And not, to the more than 100 comments. But more so, just from my heart. You see, I think the answer is quite simple.

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Empathy for Agile Leaders

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Empathy for Agile Leaders

I sometimes think that I’m the only agile coach who supports “management” and “leaders” in agile contexts. And I’ve written quite a few pieces with that perspective. For example –  

http://rgalen.com/agile-training-news/2014/11/23/agile-coaches-trainers-have-you-walked-in-the-shoes-of-technical-management

So, I was surprised and delighted when I read this piece from Jason Little – Why Executives Don’t Go to Agile Conferences.

Based on the title, I thought Jason would join a long list of agile thought leaders who take a few swipes at executives. But when I got into it, I realized that he showed far more understanding and empathy than I could have imagined. Here are two quotes from the article…

It astonishes me to see so much information about bad leadership, and how executives don’t care because they can’t spare a day at an Agile conference to explore how to run more effective retrospectives. I don’t think many pundits have a clue how much stress these people have on them, and that executives are people too. Sure, some may behave in a more forward way, which is usually perceived as command-and-control, but from my experience, it’s not the case. They’re just busy.

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The Trap of being an Embedded Agile Coach –  following up…

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The Trap of being an Embedded Agile Coach – following up…

The original post on this topic was one of my more popular posts. As of, August 14th, 2019, it’s received: 

  • On LinkedIn, ~9,500 views, 86 reactions, and 40 comments

  • On my website, ~2,500 views and 18 comments 

What’s particularly noteworthy for me is the number of comments and the overall depth, breadth, and thoughtfulness of them.

Here’s a link to the LinkedIn post - https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6561537228772831232/

And here’s a link to my original blog post - http://rgalen.com/agile-training-news/2019/6/23/the-trap-of-being-an-embedded-agile-coach

As I review the comments and thought about the article and my original intentions, I realized that a follow-up would be helpful.

I want to react to some of the comments, but I also want to clarify some of my intentions in the article. As I think some folks might have misinterpreted them. And this is mostly due to my writing.

That being said, I’m not apologizing for the original article. I think it represented my thinking…and still does. I’d just like to clarify a few things.

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The Trap of being an Embedded Agile Coach

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The Trap of being an Embedded Agile Coach

I was having dinner the other evening with a few agile coaches after teaching a CAL class all day. I think we all wanted to “trap” each other into either: 

  • Revealing our coaching secrets

  • Checking to see where out passions lie

  • Challenging each other on our “agility”

  • And simply, learning from one another

It was a small group and we engaged in some serious discussion and debate around our agile experiences and how to help our client engagements.

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Riina on Transformational Leadership

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Riina on Transformational Leadership

Riina Hellström is the CEO of a Finnish company focused on Agile HR. She often writes about topics related to that area and I really like here style. 

She is a no nonsense, straight-shooter who you can tell has lots of experience collaborating with leadership teams.

Not that long ago, she wrote a piece in a LinkedIn comment about how she approaches agile transformations. I thought I’d share it with you…

  1. Grill the CEO or Unit head before you start teaching them Agile. Tell her/him that she/he is 100% responsible for making agile work.

  2. Train the Leadership team in Agile for 2 days - make them go through a mind-blowing transformation backlog building exercise together. It must hurt. Grill them all - tell them nothing’s going to happen if none of you actually take an item off that backlog and finish it. Very few of these people have been very action oriented lately. It is a stretch to them to actually see that shit gets done.

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Practices vs. Culture

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Practices vs. Culture

I saw a LinkedIn discussion thread that was initiated by Allen Holub. The initial post was: 

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6503389838526468096

What practices are best at promoting culture? A couple years back, Robert Martin and I had a somewhat public debate about whether culture or practices come first. Bob advocates the shu-ha-ri approach: start doing practices, even by rote, and the culture will naturally arise. He used someone bowing when stepping on the mat as an example. At first, it's just rote. Eventually, respect emerges. I took the opposite approach: start with culture and good practices will emerge. If you have a culture of trust and autonomy, better lead time is a natural outcome.

In the real world of consulting, however, it's very difficult to *start* with culture. The people writing the checks typically want to improve something more hands on. So, my question is: in that world, where you need to start with practices, which practices (if any) lead to a good culture the fastest? If you're introducing practices in order to change culture, which practices would you introduce? I have my own ideas, but I'm interested in your experience.

I’d like to riff off of this a bit. I’m thinking of a couple of things:

  • Do practices lead to culture OR flip it. I think it’s a flip and Allen seems to agree BUT then backs off because it’s hard.

  • Is that the right approach? Or is it a business-related copout?

  • And what about the idea of Culture Hacking. Which I haven’t heard a lot about lately. Could that be part of it.

I like this post because it gets to the root of what a view as a BIG problem. And if everyone ignores it, where does it leave us?

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Listen to ME!

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Listen to ME!

We were sharing stories in a recent CAL class. One of the students talked about the dynamics of release engineering related to gaining customer feedback. I shared a recent post from Jason Fried where he mentioned the importance of releasing a product to get feedback. Making the point that customers are the only arbiter whether you were on track or not in your MVP development path.

Here’s the link -

https://uxplanet.org/10-things-i-learned-from-jason-fried-about-building-products-5b6694ff02aa

The young man brought up his frustration with the phenomenon of organizations often listening more to outsiders rather then listening to their own teams or internal experts. Either in person or as names being dropped in conversation.

I sometimes liken this to bandwagon syndrome and I shared on that here –

http://rgalen.com/agile-training-news/2014/4/13/bandwagons-the-good-and-the-bad

I fully resonated with his comment. Being an outside consultant, I often hear “insiders” say something like:

I’ve been giving my leadership team that feedback for several (days, months, even years) and they’ve never really listened to me. You (consultant Bob) come in and say it once and suddenly everyone takes it seriously. 

Do you know how frustrating that is?

Actually, I do. And I’m incredibly empathetic to the point.

I remember when I was at iContact as their agile transformation coach, I had everyone’s ear for the first year or so. And my recommendations were easier to make and have them stick. But as time passed and everyone got used to my voice, stories, and style, they started to tune me out a bit.

So, this phenomenon happens to us all.

I started to bring in other thought leaders, either hired or invited, to mix the ideas (and voices) up a bit. And this seemed to work beautifully to break through the ice and renew some of my influence.

Wrapping up

While this can be a bit frustrating to folks on the inside, I think this is a natural occurrence in all organizations. Folks get accustomed to our voices and we need to augment them with book / article references, outside perspectives, and other ideas.

I think it’s simply the way it is. And you know…

It doesn’t matter where or who the idea comes from as long as the organization gains a flow of ideas, tries and experiments with new things, and continues to learn & evolve.

It’s all good.

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

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The Agile Coaching Dilemma

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The Agile Coaching Dilemma

Renee Troughton is someone that I don’t follow nearly enough. But when one of her articles crosses my path, it nearly always resonates nicely with my own experience or helps define a concept or notion that I’ve been struggling with.

Renee published - What do people want agile coaches to do? on May 7th.  

I’ve found that striking the right balance (or stance) in my own agile coaching journey is a constant exercise of self-awareness, situational-awareness, and leveraging all my years of experience. It’s really, really hard.

Here’s a snippet from Renee’s article that explains the dilemma from her perspective –

I have had a lot of feedback in the past that I tend to be different from other coaches. I’ve even seen people refer to coaches as two different types, often not in good terms. One commentator referred to the schism as “fluffy agile sprinkles coaches” who are all oriented around mindset and “delivery coaches” who are all oriented around practices and techniques. To this commentator, the middle ground of coaches who are both and have the expertise to know when to use one approach over the other is a dark art that few know well.

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Retrospective Redux

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Retrospective Redux

It seems like retrospectives are still one of the more challenges agile activities/ceremonies to execute and get right. Which is somewhat surprising to me in that it’s a fairly simple activity. For example –

A team sits down periodically to look in the mirror and brainstorm way(s) to improve themselves.

How hard can that be?

We could also apply the word kaizen or kaizen event to it. Here’s a snippet as to what Wikipedia has to say about its meaning

The Japanese word kaizen means "change for better", with inherent meaning of either "continuous" or "philosophy" in Japanese dictionaries and in everyday use. The word refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small, in the same sense as the English word "improvement".[5] 

Again, it’s a simple, yet core element of your agile culture and I don’t necessarily understand why it’s so challenging. But let me share a few stories to illustrate the point that it IS challenging. At least to do it well…

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