Tag Archives: Agile Teams

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 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.

Agile leadership & communication – so many opportunities

The Garage - Peter Kaminski - Flickr Commons

The HP Garage, Peter Kaminski, Flickr Commons

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

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders apply their role as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers to decision making. How do these four roles shape how leaders approach communication?

Applying the coaching lens to communication, great leaders ask: Is communication with my people face to face, authentic and regular? Do my people feel comfortable to initiate contact with me as much as I do with them?

Bill Hewlett and David Packard of Hewlett Packard fame, incepted the practice of “management by walking around”. Until they stepped down from HP in the 1970s, they interacted with their employees in an unplanned way to check equipment, understand the status of work and engage people in authentic conversations.

Appelo describes “management by sitting around” which of course means taking the opportunity to sit with your various teams, hear what they are working on and interact with them. If this isn’t possible, then he suggests “management by Skyping around” which is unfortunately less spontaneous.

I remain astonished by my observations in workplaces, of how frequently managers miss opportunities to interact with their people in an authentic and regular way. Standup is the time to hear how teams are progressing, showcases, even more so.

Do I know those I manage on a personal level?

Appelo suggests imagining a personal map of your people. Do I know what my people like to do outside of work, how many kids they have, who they are friendly with in the workplace? When you start this exercise you might be astounded at how little you know about your people.

Am I open to being influenced by those I manage?

Have I created an environment where individuals and teams are able to disagree where appropriate, negotiate, compromise, agree and commit?

Applying the business lens to communication, great leaders ask: Do I have a Kanban board to communicate progress on my goals?

Do I use Agile practices like standups, information radiators, blogs and conversation platforms like Slack, to establish the sort of two way communication required to maximise product lifecycle profits?

Do I insist on right fit ways to communicate the status of work, such as through conversations, standups, information radiators and A3 canvases, instead of reports and gannt charts?

Applying the purpose lens to communication, great leaders ask: Am I out and about interacting with my people to create opportunities for two-way conversations and interactions about our organisation’s purpose and strategy? Do I favour two-way communication to convey purpose and strategy, over group emails and formal forum events?

I’m not suggesting that whole organisation events shouldn’t happen, but where these are a one way conversation, with leaders pushing information to folks, and folks feeling uncomfortable in asking a question, it isn’t an effective two-way conversation about strategy.

Applying the enablement lens to communication, great leaders ask: Am I effective communicating across organisational boundaries and hierarchies? Is my communication underpinned by an understanding of the complexity of the organisation? Do I communicate to effect change within a complex system?

Connected communication is at the heart of effective leadership. Do the Agile leaders you know ask themselves these questions?

Read on to learn how great Agile leaders succeed at delivery.

 

Agile leadership & decision making – new patterns, new questions

Brain - Chris White - Flickr Commons.jpg

Brain, Chris White, Flikr Commons

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask about themselves decision making?

My previous blog explained how Agile leaders of today understand themselves to be coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape how leaders approach decision making?

Applying a coaching lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Do I teach my teams a model of delegated decision making?

Jurgen Appelo explains that “we can only escape [the] typical management trap and increase the quality of work when we distribute control in our organisation.” Comparing an organisation to a brain, Appelo continues that “all around us (and inside us) complex systems self-organise successfully because control is rarely centralised.”

The level of delegation will of course depend on the maturity of the team, the status of its work and the impact of decisions on the organisation.

Drawing on Reinertson’s work in Managing the Design Factory Appelo encourages teams to create delegation boards that clarify what level of authority teams have across different activities.

The seven levels of delegation that Appelo defines are:

  1. Tell – making the decision as the manager
  2. Sell – convincing people of the decision
  3. Consult – getting input from the team before decision
  4. Agree – making the decision together with team
  5. Advise – influencing the decision made by team
  6. Inquire – seeking feedback after decision by the team
  7. Delegate – no influencing, just letting the team work it out

Applying a business lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Do I delegate enough control to allow my people to maximise product lifecycle profits?

A Product Owner, responsible for defining the features for a new app, needs the right level of authority to make decisions about which features should be built first second or not at all.

A Scrum Master shaping people and processes within a team needs authority to ensure folks in the team have the right equipment to build profitable products.

Applying a purpose lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Have I conveyed the organisation’s strategy to my people, so that they have the right information for decision making?

I think about one organisation in which I worked where strategy visualisation happened on walls in a glass meeting room, but where those walls were covered in brown paper to prevent people outside the room seeing the information.

How different is this from the strategy boards on full view at companies like REA Group, Carsales and Envato. Where strategic conversations happen behind closed doors, teams simply won’t have the information they need to produce the right output.

Applying an enablement lens to decision making and problem solving, great leaders ask: Does my team have a delegation board that encourages them to make decisions and solve problems as appropriate?

David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around talks about shifting the psychological ownership of problems and solutions using a simple change in language from a “Leader-Follower” pattern to a “Leader-Leader” pattern. Marquet, a former U.S. Navy Submarine Commander, achieved in the leadership and productivity guru Stephen Covey’s words, “the most empowered organisation he’d ever experienced.”

Marquet describes a conversation in the traditional Leader-Follower language sounding like this:
Captain: “Submerge the ship”
Subordinate: “Submerge the ship, aye”

In the Leader-Leader language it would sound like this:
Subordinate: “Captain, I intend to submerge the ship. All crew are below decks, the hatches are shut, the ship is rigged for dive, and we’ve checked the bottom depth.”
Captain: “Is it the right thing to do?”
Subordinate: “Yes sir, our mission requires that we submerge now in order to complete this exercise”
Captain: “Very Well”

An ability to appropriately delegate decision making and problem solving characterises Agile leadership. Do your Agile leaders ask themselves these questions?

Read on to learn the communication questions great Agile leaders ask.