Category Archives: Agile

What to do when you first meet the team you’re coaching

Starting to Coach a Team

Victoria Schiffer & Russell Baghban, Agile Coach Camp Melbourne 2017

How do you approach first contact with a team you are about to coach? This was the question I posed at Agile Coach Camp Melbourne, where I facilitated a session on this topic.

Four brave souls volunteered to role play a team meeting their Agile Coach for the first time. Each team member played the part of someone new to Agile. The team member’s responses varied from apprehension and fear, to curiosity and even bravado. It was a hard gig for the Coach!

I’d like to thank the 15 or so engaged folk who generated the ideas so ably summarised by Victoria Schiffer and Russell Baghban’s visual depiction of the session. Here’s my deeper exploration of the ideas shared.

Start with a warm handover

It’s easy to know when the coach’s sponsor hasn’t provided a warm handover of the coach to the team. It sounds something like this – “I’m not seeing the output I’d expect. I’ve brought in an Agile Coach to improve things”. This isn’t a warm handover!

Sponsors can set a coach up for success by being honest, but not brutal – “I know you are working hard. We’re still encountering road blocks as we implement an Agile way of working. Given that this is new for us, I’ve brought in an Agile Coach to support you.”

Sometimes a coach will find there’s been no expectation set of what the coach’s role will be. In the absence of any handover whatsoever, the coach will need to explain what a coach can do. How the coach will support the team, is an ongoing conversation.

Form a coaching triangle

A coaching triangle refers to the relationship between sponsor, coach and team. Before beginning to coach a team it’s essential for the coach to understand the sponsor’s expectation of the coach, and of the team. This is tricky, as the coach may discover there’s a need to influence or coach the sponsor, to guide an effective outcome.

Establishing a good relationship with the team is essential for the coach, but keep your expectations for the first meeting at “let’s get to learn something about each other”.

The coach must also be aware that the team’s relationship with the sponsor is most likely one of history and expectations. While it’s great to be a catalyst for new ideas, a good coach seeks to ensure the team and the sponsor are in step.

Listen listen listen

Michael Bungay Stanier expresses it best when he says, “Get comfortable with silence”. When you are meeting a team for the first time, the temptation is to launch into a description of who you are and what you want to achieve with the team. Some folks even suggest that putting together a coaching contract should be the first thing on the coach’s agenda.

Resist the urge! Consider starting with, “Tell me about you guys”, then simply listen listen listen. Sure, you might ask a few questions along the way, but in Bungay Stanier’s words “bite your tongue and don’t fill the silence”. The silence that follows a question you’ve asked is the person thinking, and that’s great!

Don’t set an agenda

Truly… don’t set an agenda for the first meeting. Let that meeting be an opportunity for the folks in the team to talk, and to tell you what they want to tell you. It’s the first best time to get insight about who each individual is, and how they interact. Is there someone who is quieter than the others? Why might this be so? Do individual’s perspectives cohese, or diverge? Is there defensiveness, resistance or hopefully curiosity about what comes next?

Don’t feel you have to direct the conversation – let it unfold. Sometimes holding the first meeting in a coffee shop, rather than a meeting room, can reduce the awkwardness, and help folks feel more comfortable.

Express curiosity, but don’t solve problems

When you are introduced to a new team, the perfect prop can be the question. “How does your work fit into…?” This allows a team to explain their understanding of both their work, and the obstacles they face. This is not the time to solve problems, but rather to express curiosity and learn more.

Bungay Stanier again, talks about “Taming the advice monster”. There will be a time to discuss approaches and even offer advice, but not in the first meeting with a team.

The wrap up

The best wrap up is to leave folks ready for what might come next. Propose another opportunity to meet. Suggest the team might think about things they are curious to learn more about, or some of the obstacles they mentioned in this meeting, and take it from there.

If you do choose to put in place a coaching contract with the team, you’ll know when it is the right time, but it’s rarely at the first meeting.

The infographic accompanying this post is the collective wisdom of those at Agile Coach Camp. During the session there was divergence of opinion on many of the ideas that surfaced. What we all agreed on though, was that change is not prescriptive. Use your first meeting with a team to begin the process of building trust. It is what will be required for the team’s change journey.

Agile Coach – charting the course of change

obeng-change

Eddy Obeng, Four Types of Change

Despite being a movie about transformation, there was of course no Agile Coach in the 1957 romantic comedy Desk Set. Spencer Tracy plays an efficiency expert and inventor of a reference computer about to be introduced to a New York TV network. Katharine Hepburn, at her sharp witted best, plays the network’s librarian, in charge of researching facts, and answering questions on all manner of topics. The movie, as you can imagine, is full of fiery exchange, as Tracy and Hepburn seem unable to set a joint course for change. Albeit without the atmosphere of a Hollywood classic, lack of clarity often characterises the starting point for an Agile Coach.

Eddie Obeng, the British organisational theorist, educator and author, provides a great way of understanding change. He describes four different states.

1. Paint by numbers change – where what and how are known

Where an organisation has high clarity on what it is that needs to change, and how to do this, Obeng describes this as paint by numbers. He is referring of course, to the type of art experience you buy in a newsagency, that shows you what picture you are going to paint, and directs you how to do it, using the numbers on the picture.

An organisation trying Agile for the first time, might start with a known what; such asa single pilot project, and a defined how, being the Agile way the team will work. It’s not necessarily a straightforward change, but because the what and how are known, organisations rarely engage an Agile Coach at this stage.

 2. Making a movie change – where how is known, but not what

No more so than today, does the world of Hollywood know how to make a movie. The part that is unknown each time a studio commissions a new movie, is the what.

With a pilot project modelling how Agile achieves collaboration and customer focused outcomes, an organisation could wonder what other applicability Agile has. What ways of working could be utilised beyond IT? What Agile practices could Leaders use to manage portfolio prioritisation? An Agile Coach can help disclose to an organisation the breadth of what, that can be achieved.

3. The quest – where what is known, but not how

The adoption of Agile often sits within the “quest” quadrant. Obeng here is referring to JFK’s well known speech of 1961 to commit funds to the space race:

“Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts of our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last.

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

JFK magnificently articulated what he wanted to achieve, but openly expressed that the US did not have the how of sending man to the moon.

The last decade has proven the success of Agile, but there is still no one size fits all approach to how to implement it across an organisation. It takes a skilled Agile Coach to define the how, and keep testing it along the way!

4. Lost in the fog – where neither what nor how is known

The starting point of change is often when an organisation acknowledges it doesn’t know what to do to embed Agile working, or how  to do it. A great Agile Coach collaborates with stakeholders to define what Agile capability looks like. Once this vision is articulated, the Coach focuses on how to achieve this. Trained Agile Coaches are organisational change managers, expert in moving from lost in the fog to clarity.

The movie ends happily. Tracy and Hepburn sort out misunderstandings and of course fall in love. As in the movie, the course of Agile change can be choppy, but with a skilled skipper, perhaps less so.

The Agile lightning talk cheatsheet

14740975856_15b4e8fe12_h

Image from p.173 “Crayon and character: truth made clear through eye and ear or ten minute talks with colored chalks”, (1913), Flickr Commons

In choosing a lightning talk topic, stories of failure are as useful as stories of success! In fact, choosing a sensational topic is actually half the work. I’m reminded of an embarrassing episode in my childhood, when I definitely got it wrong.

A long time ago now, when I was a small child, perhaps 8 years old, my parents decided I needed to get some religious education. They sent me to a youth group summer camp, with lots of groovy young leaders who modelled the behaviour expected of people who were passionate about religious observance. We kids were engaged in outdoor activities, (on a religious theme), lots of singing, (on a religious theme), indoor games, (on a religious theme). Well you probably get the idea.

The highlight of the camp was when the parents and the religious leader of the congregation came to visit. The passionate enthusiastic youth leaders assembled everyone with their mums and dads in a big circle to show off the kids’ newly acquired religious knowledge. The coolest of all the youth leaders welcomed everyone and explained, after the rousing welcome song, that now the kids had an opportunity to ask the religious leader a really good question.

I was, unsurprisingly, the first child to raise my hand. In fact I sprung out of my mother’s lap, barely able to contain my excitement at the incredible question I had to ask. I faced the revered religious leader, and in a loud and confident voice I asked, “Why do we have freckles?”

Laugh you may. I had clearly not understood the first rule of engaging an audience – choose the right topic!

So what is the right topic for a lightning talk?

A good lightning talks tells a story that the audience is not likely to have heard before. Like a TED talk, it is an idea worth sharing. Here are some prompts to help you think up a topic:

  • Great ways to…
  • Great ideas for…
  • What we can learn from…
  • How to … in 3 easy steps

Some of the lightning talks I’ve delivered are:

  • 5 great ways to seed Agile curiosity in your organisation
  • 5 great ideas for competitions that build your team’s Agile knowledge
  • 5 great ways to introduce or reinforce Agile behaviours into a team
  • The Great Pancake Cook up – teaching collaboration
  • What we can learn from our Lean cousins at Alcoa
  • How to make the most of a field trip to another workplace
  • Help – my team has list its mojo!

Telling the story

Bearing in mind that a lightning talk is no longer than 10 minutes, how do you tell the story in just 10 minutes?

Like all good stories, a lightning talk needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Here’s the framework:

  • Introduce your topic
  • Explain something to the audience
  • Parting words

Simple hey?!

Well it should be. The right amount of content is about the amount of content that another person could convey if they were asked, “What was that lightning talk about?”

A lightning talk isn’t…

A lightning talk isn’t a conversation, a rant, a PowerPoint presentation, a video, a sales pitch or a commercial platform for your company or career.

You talk because you love the idea of sharing an idea. As with a TED talk, it “takes the listener on a journey and provides an insight into the subject that they did not have before”*.

How do you tell a good story?

Consider telling a story. Our brains are programmed to enjoy them. Good stories set the scene, they include build up, and of course resolution. They often make the audience laugh, or connect and hopefully reflect on the theme of the lightning talk.

If you are using slides, make them scant and of few words. Where folks are reading, they aren’t listening.

A great lightning talk expresses your curiosity and enthusiasm for your topic. In putting your lightning talk together, ask the question, “How can I convey what excited me about this topic”. This question will help you shape the few dot points that are the middle of your lightning talk”.

Refine, refine, refine, using each sentence for maximum value. Your adrenaline will prevent you from thinking straight, so don’t plan to invent your talk from a few dot points on a cue card. Know every masterfully picked word.

A few words can evoke a world of thought. Think about how a pithy quote can express or cement the ideas you are trying to convey. It’s sometimes a great way to end a lightning talk.

Preparing to deliver

Because a lightning talk is not a speech, a lesson or a lecture, you need to TALK it. Have a run through with your friends and colleagues, practice it in the mirror, tell it to your pot plants, but don’t get up on stage with a script.

One the day

I have little advice for you except to say that those in the audience are unlikely to see your legs shaking.

Go slow. Not only will it make it easier for people to understand you, but they will also be able to absorb what you are saying and reflect on it.

Are lighting talks for the beginner presenter?

I would absolutely encourage a beginner presenter to give it a go. Contrary to popular opinion though, it takes more skill to deliver a fabulous lightning talk than a half hour presentation. Don’t be discouraged. Instead reflect on these top 5 reasons why you should consider giving a lightning talk:

  1. It “gives you a rare opportunity to spend time thinking about a specific topic [you are passionate about] and distilling it down into something you can quickly and effectively communicate to others”**
  2. It is the magnet to connect with other people thinking about the same things as you
  3. For that moment in time, you are a thought leader
  4. It’s an awesome icebreaker at the post conference drinks
  5. It’s scary good.

 

* http://tedxmelbourne.com/apply/

** http://businessofsoftware.org/2013/07/why-you-should-give-a-lightning-talk-2/

 

Agile leadership – questions for innovation & continuous improvement

Brick 101 - LEGO Ideas Research Institute - Flickr Commons

Brick 101, LEGO Ideas Research Institute, Flickr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves to drive continuous improvement and innovation?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders, as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers, acknowledge the success of their teams and reward right behaviour. How do these four roles shape leaders’ approach to continuous improvement and innovation?

Applying the coaching lens to continuous improvement, great leaders ask: Do I teach my teams how to embed continuous improvement through Lean and Agile techniques such as retros, kaizen and improvement katas?

Applying the business lens to continuous improvement, great leaders ask: Do I reward individuals and teams who regularly implement improvement activities to maximise lifecycle profits?

Applying the purpose lens to continuous improvement, great leaders ask: Do I energise and engage my people to drive continuous improvement?

Applying the enablement lens to continuous improvement, great leaders ask: Do I make time for my team to implement improvement? Do my people have the autonomy to implement improvement?

Jez Humble and Barry O’Reilly’s 2014 Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale is truly a wonderful blueprint for developing the sort of generative company culture that leads to innovation.

These are some questions that Agile leaders ask to create such a generative culture.

Applying the coaching lens to innovation, great leaders ask: Do I model and teach collaboration, risk sharing and acceptance of failure in order to learn?

Applying the business lens to innovation, great leaders ask: Do I promote ways of working that foster innovation through continuous experimentation?

Do I run hack days?

Do I reward great ideas?

Applying the purpose lens to innovation, great leaders ask: Do I recognise that without autonomy, there will be no opportunity for my people to innovate?

Applying the enablement lens to innovation, great leaders ask: Do I create a generative culture that enables my people to think innovatively to resolve impediments?

Appelo makes it sound easy when he says, “We aim for a more powerful system, not better controlled people”.

What other questions, can we, as leaders ask, to propel continuous improvement and innovation?

Agile leadership – rewarding right behaviour & acknowledging success

Doughnuts - Amy - Flickr Commons

Doughnuts, Amy, Flickr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves about acknowledging success and rewarding right behaviour?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders support learning, as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape leaders’ approach to acknowledging success and rewarding right behaviour?

Applying the coaching lens to entrenching success and rewarding right behaviour, great leaders ask: Do I teach individuals and teams that it is important to acknowledge and celebrate success?

Applying the business lens to entrenching success and rewarding right behaviour, great leaders ask: Do I measure the success of individuals and teams simply by their output, or by their focus on activities that relate to the core value stream?

Do I bring doughnuts when we get through a tough story or sprint? Do I know when my teams have got through a tough story or sprint?

Laugh you may, but what I’m emphasising is a leadership style that recognises the connection between acknowledging people’s effort and business success.

Do I wait until release of a product to acknowledge the effort of those involved, or do I thank my team regularly?

Applying the purpose lens to entrenching success and rewarding right behaviour, great leaders ask: Do my people feel valued? How do I know this?

Applying the enablement lens to entrenching success and rewarding right behaviour, great leaders ask: Do I reward people who resolve problems across the entire value stream?

I guess the antithesis of this is managers who reward people who do whatever it takes to get something across the line, regardless of whether it creates other issues, such as technical debt, poor staff morale or unsustainable processes.

I perceived the joy on a fellow’s face this week, when a leader acknowledged how the work he had done directly contributed to relieving a bunch of problem tickets in a service delivery queue. It’s not hard to acknowledge success and reward right behaviour. Are your leaders doing this?

Read on to learn the questions great Agile leaders ask to drive innovation and continuous improvement.

Agile leadership & learning – a new paradigm

Scrumtrooper Image - Axis Agile - Used with permission

Scrumtrooper image, Axis Agile, Used with permission

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves about learning?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders support delivery, as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape leaders’ approach to learning?

Applying the coaching lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I share knowledge, skills and perspectives with my people, to foster their professional growth?

Do I understand the role that mastery plays in helping individuals feel more engaged in the work they do?

Do I emphasise and model the value of life-long learning?

Am I the person recommending books, meetups and stuff I’ve read on the Internet?

Do I blog, respond to blogs or start conversations on Slack or Twitter?

Applying the business lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I foster practices that drive experimentation and learning, to maximise product lifecycle profits?

Applying the purpose lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I help my people understand the value of what they’re delivering, so that they develop a sense of purpose?

This of course references Dan Pink’s 2009 publication Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. W. Edwards Deming in fact predates Pink when he writes in Out of the Crisis in 1982, “The aim of leadership should be to …bring pride of workmanship to people”. In 1988 Deming revised this phrase to “joy of workmanship” and it refers to purpose.

Since Pink’s 2009 publication there have been a flurry of books on the topic of purpose, including Appelo in 2011 and unsurprisingly a couple of great little TED books from last year, Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes, by Margaret Heffernan and Why We Work by Barry Schwartz.

I really like the work of Steve Denning on the topic of purpose and delivery, so I’ll quote him here:
“Delighting other people is inherently motivating…
The meaning of work isn’t in the bread that we’re baking; it’s in the enjoyment the customers get from eating the bread.
The meaning of work isn’t in the words the actor is reciting; it’s in the response of the audience to those words.”

So I’ll add to the list of questions that great leaders ask themselves: Do I expose my people to customers, suppliers and other world views to connect them with customers?

Applying the enablement lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I create a culture where it is safe to fail? This question of course comes from an understanding that we learn from both failure and success.

Do I reward teams that experiment to learn?

Do I take a systems approach to learning, understanding that to resolve impediments I must see the whole, rather than just the component parts?

Do I use lean techniques to focus on the entire value stream, to measure and learn?

Am I am a driver for development of strong chapters and communities of practice, to support both new and expert practitioners?

In an interview online, Carsales.com CIO Ajay Bhatia talks about his leaders’ engagement in communities of practice:
“We run a book club for the leadership team across product and technology, where we discuss the most important things we picked out from the book and go away and try and implement those things among our teams… Our book club has been so successful that now it is no longer only limited to the leadership team and the number of members is ever increasing. This is creating a culture where we are constantly picking up new ideas and ensuring what we build in Australia is no less than world class.”

Jeff Smith, CIO of IBM, said in the keynote address at Agile Australia 2016, “it’s important for people to try stuff, but not get the OK from me to do it”.

Great Agile leaders know that learning isn’t just about sitting with individuals once a year to set a learning plan. It’s about always asking, “What did you try? What did you learn?”

Do you model these behaviours? Do you know leaders who have changed the paradigm?

Read on to learn the questions great Agile leaders ask about rewarding right behaviour and celebrating success.

Agile leadership & delivery – it’s not about pizza boxes

190310 - Losers of Friday Night Rejoice - Lis Ferla - Flickr Commons

Losers of Friday Night Rejoice, Lis Ferla, Flickr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask about themselves about delivery?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders communicate as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape leaders’ approach to delivery?

Applying the coaching lens to delivery, great leaders ask themselves: Do I give my people the Agile expertise and tools to deliver?

Applying the business lens to delivery, great leaders ask: Do I ensure that my teams work at a sustainable rate to maximise delivery?

You guys know that the best measure of this is the smell of pizza – right? Where you see a stack of empty pizza boxes in the office on Monday morning, then a team has worked over the weekend. When the smell of pizza on a Monday morning is the norm, then the team isn’t working at a sustainable pace.

Tom DeMarco in his classic 2001 book, Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, says that “an increasingly common bit of organizational folklore holds that pressure improves performance and that maximum performance can occur only in the presence of maximum pressure. This idea, though deeply embedded in our culture, doesn’t stand up to examination in the light of day”

Managers who encourage their people to commit to the right amount of work and who reward those who meet the goals of the sprint time and time again, understand that sustainable delivery leads to predictable business outcomes.

Applying the purpose lens to delivery, great leaders ask: Do I provide the goal and strategic direction, allowing my people to define how they meet requirements? Do I trust my people to figure out how to meet requirements?

Nigel Dalton, CIO of REA Group, comments in an ITNews interview online, on the paradigm of leaders providing strategic direction and thus allowing people to deliver. He describes that Toyota has strict rules about what executives spend their time focused on:
“In Toyota’s hierarchy, the president and executive are only permitted to think about horizons two and three,
The people at the coalface must run and operate horizon one.
As a CIO, I am always drawn to the challenges of today – challenges around IT security, developer recruitment, or how we use cloud. But I have to trust the teams to manage horizon one.”

Applying the enablement lens to delivery, great leaders ask: Do I trust my people to resolve problems? Do I challenge them to balance delivery with managing accrual of technical debt?

Dipesh Pala, IBM’s Agile Capability Leader for Asia Pacific, exhorted leaders at Agile Australia 2016 to “shift from managing results, to designing environments that encourage results”.

At the same conference, Jeff Smith, CIO of IBM, remarked, in reference to a customer service help desk, that using Kanban was critical in delivery. He explained that “the ability to pull tasks, rather than being given them” was what created swift and effective delivery.

He went on to explain that “if we fundamentally change the way things work, it gets better”. I was struck by the simplicity and sense in this statement. Great Agile leaders are enablers for delivery. That is their job!

Are your leaders asking the right questions about delivery?

Read on to understand the new Agile leadership paradigm for learning.