Time and again I see Kanban boards with a “On hold” status. The justification for maintaining this status defeats the purpose of Agile completely. The most common ones include:
1. QA suggests that the story cannot be “In QA” status if defects have been found and the developer is fixing the same. Keeping the story in QA will paint a wrong picture around the time to get the story tested.
2. Developers have a issue keeping the story “in development” since the work was completed and the issue identified may not a defect but a change in requirement or maybe a corner case.
The reasons mentioned above are examples of lacking collaboration and team ownership. These concerns can be attributed to how metrics (lead time and cycle time) are calculated in a Kanban setup. Individuals get into a defensive when assessing cycle time as they think it is reflective of their individual performance and not about the team as a whole.
Imagine this happening in a car assembly line, no car would ever make it to the exit or best case we might have a car with certain key features missing as there seems to be no way of reversing the assembly. The key to the success of Kanban is about maintaining a manageable flow and as teams hop between stories and tasks, it is bound to impact the throughput of the team.
To summarize, it is imperative that teams look at tasks and stories as team goals instead of individual performance indicators. If a story cannot move forward, it needs to be taken off the line. There is no pit stops or reverse gear.
You have been told about your next assignment as an Agile Coach. Your first reaction, check out the client website, you go to Glassdoor to get some employee feedback to assess the mood, get some company history and you are all set to hit the ground running.
The Agile Coach role comes up with its set of unknowns and that is what makes it fun, exciting and challenging. If you are a developer, you and your client know you are going to be writing code or if you are a Business Analyst, you and your client know that you are going to be gathering requirements. But if you are an Agile Coach, more often than not, your client knows very little about the end state where you want your teams to be before you sign off. So what are some of the things that an Agile Coach should be doing as you land into an alien world and what are some of the things that can potentially help create a solid foundation for an Agile adoption/transformation and make Agility the way of life. Here are some tips for :
- Investigate– ask direct questions to help you understand why management wants to embark on the Agile journey and surface any perceptions that the client might have about Agile methods, approach and end state. Informing the management on how Agile will impact them today and tomorrow will help setup a strong foundation for a sustainable Agile journey.
- Assess – Assessment drives decision-making and strategy. Every project and associated business is unique. The uniqueness can be driven by the market position, competition, volatility of business or simply maturity at the top. Coming into a project with a preset mindset of how Agility will be achieved is a recipe for disaster. An initial assessment should bring out details of key challenges that development or stakeholder or marketing is facing which in turn will help in selecting the right methodology to achieve Agility and derive its benefits. Remember, Agile is not one methodology; it is flexibility that facilitates adaptability.
- Observe – is the key characteristic of a great Agile coach. This includes observing management, teams and individuals. Quite often, start of an Agile transformation is a result of an individuals opinion which happens to be a ‘C’ level executive and is a decision imposed on everyone else in the organization.Since the success of Agile revolves around organizing, collaboration, teamwork and collective ownership, this is where the coach needs to bring in Agility for the management before taking it to the next level. Looking for opportunities to coach, learn, and improve by observing the landscape is important for a successful adoption.
- Plan – Success of Agile depends on how individuals and teams are able to bring in the change in mindset and thought process. Experience suggests that implementing big changes tends to scare teams away. Also it impacts productivity since the focus shifts from task in hand to process change.Early assessment of teams in terms of their knowledge and maturity of Agile practices helps in defining a strategy for the change. In most cases I like to focus on process changes before jumping into the intricacies of the process including Agile engineering practices.The “Shu-Ha-Ri” approach is a great way to engage teams and individuals in effective and planned Agile adoption.
- Connect – The effectiveness of a coach is driven by how it connects with the person he/she is coaching. In sport, a player or an athlete follows the instructions from the coaching based on the trust that the end goal is to achieve the best possible result. A lot of times the player might not believe in what the coach suggests but just follows instructions believing in the experience and knowledge the coach carries. At the same time the coach understands the strengths and weakness of the student. This is where the connection between the two becomes critical. The coach explains the rationale behind each action that he wants the student to perform and constantly shares results that confirm improvement and progress that would result in motivation to persist.
- Inspire – Having worked with large IT services companies, I remember the time when duration of the assignment would decide the rating and potential salary hike one would get at the end of the year. The longer you hang on, the better it gets. Talking about a Agile Coach role, its the opposite. A coach’s effectiveness is gauged by how it manages the to inspire the teams embrace agility and get to the point when members of the team start coaching one another and produce value as a well oiled machine and becomes a habit.
Coaching is a great opportunity to be the impact. While the methodologies and techniques for process adoption are critical, the human skills play a much bigger role as you embark on this journey to help people see what they can be instead of where they are.
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As I walked out of my office building for a short break, I saw this small Asian guy (looked like a Korean or Japanese to me) looking at me with a big question mark on his face. I could figure out that it was my look that had him wonder if I belonged to this planet. Looking at his uniform, I could make out that he worked for the local housekeeping contractor.
Next, I walk up to him and say “Hello”, his first reaction was to point at my turban and ask “What is that and why do you wear it?”. I give him a smile and said “I am a Sikh”. He tried to pronounce it a couple of time and got it just right on his fourth try. We shook hands and I ask him for a quick chat. He looked at his watch trying to ensure that he was not ignoring any planned housekeeping tasks, and agreed to join me.
As we stood out side on a rather chili afternoon with me sipping into my hot cup of coffee, he kept staring at me as I shared more details about Sikhism including a little bit of history and culture and most interestingly for him, my looks. As I shared with him the rationale behind keeping my hair uncut and wearing a colorful turban, he for some reason kept going back to the hair imagining how difficult it would be to manage this look.
As he decided to go back to work (still having the same look that he had 10 minutes ago), we gave each other a hug and said “Good Bye”.
I see him every day and our bond seems to get stronger each day. He greets me each morning trying hard to pronounce my name but he does say “Sikh” pretty well and that brings a sense of pride and a smile on my face.
As you read this post, I request you to take a few minutes to read about Sikhism here. We are all about peace, love and service to humanity.
And to my new found friend John, we are from the same planet and this is we 🙂