Succeeding with your Agile Coach

 

I recently said goodbye to one of my organization’s Agile Coaches and I felt that I needed to take a pause and reflect to consider my next move. The engagement had gone well, in fact one of the best we’ve had, but not without its share of successes and failures. But the successes had clearly outpaced any failures, and so there was a lot of good I wanted to build on.

The departing coach was part of a 3rd generation of Agile Coaches that I had worked with in the 3 years since we had begun our company’s transformation to Agile. And while he was a great coach, so were his predecessors and yet they had had fewer successes.

On reflection, what had really happened is that we had changed as a company; we had learned how to better execute our engagements with an Agile Coach.

Deciding to hire an Agile Coach.

Deciding to hire an Agile Coach can be a big step. A couple of things need to have happened, you’ve recognized that you need some help or at least another perspective. And given that Agile Coaches are typically not very cheap, you have decided to invest in your Agile transformation, however big or small. You’re clearly taking it seriously.

However, through my experiences I noticed that things can get a little tricky once that decision has been made. Many organizations can fall into a trap of externalizing transformation responsibilities to the Agile Coach.

In essence thinking along the lines of “as long as I hire a good coach, they should be able to make our teams Agile” can take you into an engagement model that is not very Agile in the first place.

Much like how Scrum and other Agile Practices connect customers with teams and establishes shared risk, an organization’s relationship with their Agile Coaches need to be a working partnership.

Figure1

Positive Patterns for Coaching Engagements

So it’s important for you to setup the right engagement approach to get value out of your Agile Coach and this goes beyond the hard costs of their services, but also the high cost of failure with not having the right coaching in the right areas.

Here are 5 positive patterns for coaching engagements that I’ve observed:

1. Identify the Customer

Usually it is management who will hire a coach, and they may do so to help one or more teams with their Agile adoption needs. So in this scenario who is the customer? Is it the person that hired the coach or the teams (the coachees) who will be receiving the services? In some cases, the coachees aren’t clear why the coach is there, they haven’t asked for their services and in some cases may even feel threatened by their presence.

For this reason, if management is hiring coaches you need to recognize that there is a 3-pronged relationship that needs to be clearly established and maintained.

Figure2

With the customer in this case being someone in management, i.e. the person who hired the coach in the first place. The customer’s responsibility will be to not only identify the coachee but then work with the coach to establish and support that relationship.

2. Set the Mandate

Agile Coaches typically tend to be more effective when they have one or two specific mandates tied to an organization’s goals. Not only is the mandate important to establish why the coach is there, too many goals can significantly dilute the coach’s effectiveness. Put another way, Agile Coaches are not immune to exceeding their own Work in Progress limits.

The mandate establishes why the coach is there, and should be tied to some sort of organizational need. A good way of developing this is to articulate what is currently happening and the desired future state you want the coach to help with.

For example:

The teams on our new program are great at consistently delivering their features at the end of each sprint. However, we still experience significant delays merging and testing between teams in order for the program to ship a new release. We’d like to reduce that time significantly, hopefully by at least half.

Once the engagement is well underway you may find that the coach, through serendipity alone, is exposed to and gets involved with a wide variety of other areas. This is fine, but it’s best to just consider this to be a side show and not the main event. If other activities start to take on a life of their own, it’s probably a good time to go back to inspect and potentially adjust the mandate.

If you’re not sure how to establish or identify your Agile goals, this could be the first goal of any Agile coach you hire. In this scenario, the customer is also the coachee and the mandate is to get help establishing a mandate.

3. Hire the Coach that fits the need

Agile coaches are not a homogeneous group, with many degrees of specialty, perspective and experiences. Resist the desire to find a jack-of-all-trades, you’re as likely to find them as a unicorn.

Your now established mandate will be your biggest guide to what kind of coach you should be looking for. Is the need tied to technical practices, process engineering, team collaboration, executive buy-in, transforming your culture, etc?

The other part is connected with the identified coachee. Are the coachees team members, middle management or someone with a “C” in at the start of their title? Will mentoring be required or are you just here to teach something specific?

Using something like ACI’s Agile Coaching Competency Framework, would be a good model to match the competencies required of the perspective coach.

In my example earlier, in order for your team to get help with their merging & testing needs, you may have to look for a coach with the right skills within the Technical Mastery competence. And if you have technical leaders who are championing the change, potentially the ability to Mentor.

Figure3

4. Establish Feedback Loops

With the coach, customer and mandate clearly identified, you now need to be ready to devote your time to regularly connect and work with the coach. Formalizing some sort of cadence is necessary, if you leave it to ad hoc meetings you will typically not meet regularly enough and usually after some sort of failure has occurred.

The objective of these feedback loops is to tie together the communication lines between the 3 prongs established: the customer, the coach and the coachees. They should be framed in terms of reviewing progress against the goals established with the mandate. If the coachees ran any experiments or made any changes that were intended to get closer to the goals, this would be the time to reflect on them. If the coachees need something from the customer, this would be a good forum to review that need.

Figure4

Along with maintaining a cadence of communication, feedback loops if done regularly and consistently, could be used to replace deadlines, which in many cases are set simply a pressure mechanism to maintain urgency. So statements like “Merge & test time is to be reduced by half by Q2” now become “We need to reduce merge and test time by half and we will review our progress and adjust every 2 weeks.”

5. It doesn’t need to be Full Time

Resist the temptation to set the coach’s hours as a full-time embedded part of the organization or team. While you may want to have the coach spend a significant amount of time with you and your coachees when the engagement is starting, after this period you will likely get a lot more value from regular check-ins.

This could look like establishing some sort of rhythm with a coachee: reviewing challenges, then agreeing on changes and then coming back to review the results after sufficient time has passed.

This approach is more likely to keep the coach as a coach, and prevents the coach from becoming entangled in the delivery chain of the organization. The coach is there to help the coachees solve the problems, and not to become an active participant in their delivery.

Time to get to work

Bringing in an Agile Coach is an excellent and likely necessary part of unlocking your Agile transformation. However, a successful engagement with a coach will have you more connected and active with your transformation, not less. So consider these 5 positive coaching engagement patterns as I consider them moving into my 4th generation of Agile coaches. I expect it will be a lot of work, along with a steady stream of great results.

Martin aziz

Martin Aziz
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@martinaziz
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What do we Mean by Transformation?

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From the Scrum Alliance Orlando Conference ”Open Space” Discussion, April 2016, facilitated by Valerie Senyk

Transformation is a big word that Scrum/ Agilists use. It is what we promise our customers through training and coaching.

On the last day of the Scrum Alliance Conference during the Open Space forum, I posed the question: “What is transformation? What do we mean by it?” We had forty-five minutes to try and understand this issue.

Initially, discussion centered around the idea of change and some of the manifestations of change. However, it was pointed out that transformation requires more than a methodology we follow. In fact, it’s more of a way of thinking.

It is easy to say what transformation is NOT: it is not rigid, not prescriptive, not directive. It is about different ways of behaving, it is supportive, and requires a new mindset from being prescriptive to adaptive.

I asked if the participants saw themselves as agents of transformation. Almost everyone did. So, what do they do? And how do they do it?

Participants spoke of the need for greater knowledge and education around Agile, as well as the need to understand stakeholders. To be an agent of transformation is about enabling people, and to enable them we need to understand them.

One commented that when an organization experiences pain, that is an opportunity to go in as an agent of transformation and use that pain as a motivation and means to change.

Transformation is not a one-time event; it requires continuous learning. In order to have continuous learning, agents must create a safety net for innovation to occur. The mindset must be that failure is okay. Trust in the process and in the agent (agilist) is necessary for discovery.

It was understood we can achieve transformation at a surface level to begin with, but true transformation occurs at a personal level. How is it possible to achieve this deeper level?

One participant spoke about the need for love, for truthfulness and for transparency to be part of a personal-level transformation. As a member of the BERTEIG team, I know that love, truthfulness and transparency are integral to how we work, and how we deliver services.

Ultimately, there is a difference between change and transformation. Change means one can go forward but then step backward. Change is not necessarily permanent. But transformation is really about irreversible change! And small transformations are steps to larger ones.

Discussion then centered on what motivates transformation. Behavioural change needs to be felt/ desired at a visceral level. Organic analogies were suggested to help educate and motivate – that in the natural world we see constant development and change. Why would we be any different?

The question was posed: What do we transform to? People need to be shown the beauty of the next step…beauty in itself becomes a motivation.

Is it enough to help change an organization or corporation to run beautifully and smoothly within itself? Or is there a higher purpose to transformation?

One attendee spoke about how all the cells in the body work autonomously for a higher purpose, which is the functioning of a human being.

In business also, transformation can also be pursued for a higher purpose. Imagine a corporation transitioning from pursuing purely monetary rewards to its pursuit being about making a positive contribution to society. It was pointed out that studies show that companies with a higher purpose actually have higher revenue.

However, it was also expressed that everything that matters in life cannot be measured.

We concluded the session with the idea that transformation requires looking outward as well as inward. It’s not just about us and our customers – it’s ultimately about creating social good.

I have been grappling with the idea of transformation for many years, from the viewpoint of the spiritual as well as that of an artist. Hearing the ideas and understanding of the twenty-plus people who attended this session helped me see that transformation on a larger-scale requires patient but strongly-motivated steps toward an ideal that may seem intangible to some, but is worth every moment in pursuing. For it is in the pursuit of the best ways over the better that transformation is wrought.


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What You Need To Know About Disruption

This information was presented by John Hagel in a Scrum Alliance webinar, April 12, 2016. These are my notes plus a few thoughts.DSC_0616.

The idea of Disruption in business was popularized in ‘97 in a book by Clayton Christensen. What is disruption? It occurs when most of the leading incumbents (in business, politics, technology, etc) are displaced by a new approach that is challenging to replicate. Disruption can usually be quickly seen in a change in economic factors or a change in mindsets.

There are 5 aspects of disruption to be aware of:

1. it’s happening across every industry

2. well-managed firms don’t make you safe from disruption

3. most firms/ businesses did not see it coming, i.e. newspaper industry

4. disrupting companies are not themselves immune from disruption

5. there are multiple-patterns or inter-related patterns of disruption

Most companies focus on their high-value estimates; their low-value customers don’t seem to be a threat. But as low-value items or services steadily improve, we see high-value customers shift to that. Firms must become Agile and be able to adjust on-the-fly to new technologies; they should not focus on adding improvement just to high-value things.

John Hagel clarified that disruption is a universal phenomenon – “the story of the century.” Many companies are not weathering the storm. The average life of a leading company in the ‘50’s was 62 years – now it is 18 years.

This is due to a fundamental shift in value creation, whereby consumers are gaining more power with more information and options, and knowledge workers are gaining more power in that talent has greater visibility, and higher wages can be continually demanded.

Hagel’s research shows that there are patterns that can act as lenses through which disruption can be viewed. The first pattern relates to the transformation of value and economics. For example, the digital camera became a huge disruption to the photography industry, but now itself has been disrupted by the ability to embed digital cameras in cellphones. The second pattern relates to “harnessing network effects;” the more participants that join, the more value is created. This pattern is more enduring and challenging to disrupt.

In your industry, what would you look for to understand market vulnerability? Would it be through product pricing, product modularity, demand characteristics, or supply constraints? If you assess your industry, which catalysts are the most important to understand to deal with disruption?

My personal thought is that, given the organic nature of the world’s systems, whatever disruptions are trending in the world around us, sooner or later they will have an effect on most businesses and organizations.

Disaster can be staved off by becoming more Agile in your organization. Agile will help everyone respond more quickly and with flexibility to disruptions. In fact, Agile itself has become a disruptive factor for outmoded ways of doing business.


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ProjectWorld Workshop: From Project to Product

This week we sponsored ProjectWorld in Toronto. Tons of people stopped by our booth and shared their experience with us.

As well as meeting many old friends and new potential clients/collaborators, Mishkin presented a symposium to dispel the myths of Agile work and Gerry, Travis, and I facilitated a workshop called “From Project to Product: Agile Delivery Models”.

Many people in our workshop asked that I share the slide deck so please download it here. Feel free to share with others!


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