Looking back in time, last 6 years have been amazingly wonderful. During this time I have seen my 2 kids grow and mature as I continue to grown with them. Time spent with the kids has always been the biggest stress buster. Whether it was watching them smile while taking those short naps to reading their first story or wanting all my attention as soon as I got home at the end of the day.
As I think through how they have grown, I see a lot of similarities between bringing up kids and coaching teams. My parenting journey has helped me develop myself to fit into the coach role. With kids, coaching begins the moment a child starts to identify you as someone who they can trust and someone who is there to make their tomorrow better. Here are some key activities that I think have helped me enhance my coaching skills:
- There was a time when they would just listen. They would just wait to get instructions and follow. It was up to me as a father to ensure that they were engaged and watching as I worked towards building a strong foundation.
- As they continued to grow, we celebrated every single achievement and guided them to overcome failures.
- Come the age of 2 to 3, they started to explore. Explore ways of doing things differently without caring too much about the end result. I was happy to let them explore but made sure that they stayed within the boundaries and principles.
- And there were those off days when they just refused to listen. That was the time when punishing was not an option. I had to be patient, wait for them to settle down and then have a one on one discussion. The discussion was retrospective of what should or should not be done.
- As I walk this wonderful journey of brining up my kids, as a parent I continue to provide constant feedback so that these basics principles of life are constantly reinforced.
My daughter Nehmat is now 6 years and she is one self sufficient kid. There are times when I need to get back to my coaching role as she continues to grow but I guess this is one assignment where I won’t mind being involved for the next few years.
My son Arjit is 3 and needs constant coaching. My coaching with him is in the “Storming” phase where there are more disagreements as we continue to work towards his next stage of maturity.
I am sure there are coaches out there without kids or who are not great fans of kids, this is just a glimpse of my life with my wonderful kids. They continue to challenge me each day with their thinking and that pushes me hard to continue learning and improving.
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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This blog comes out of a recent discussion I had at the ALM (Agile Leadership Meetup) at Improving Enterprises in Dallas. This was my first time at ALM and you can imagine the energy that came out. It pretty much pushed me to write my first blog, something that I have been thinking of doing for a long time now.
So going back to the topic, one of the issues discussed during the meetup was about ability to sustain Agility when a team is in the middle of a transformation journey. A lot of reasons were discussed as to why sustainability is such a big issue. The more critical ones that came out of the discussion included:
- Management understanding and buy in – This is an issue as meeting timelines is always the first priority. The management is least interested in the methodology that the teams adopt.
- Teams work in congestion – Teams always have more than they can do, leading to chaos, pressure and drop in quality. This again results in focus shifting to meeting management/customer expectations.
So how do we go about solving the Management issue? As I ask this question, I also look back on how in my previous coaching engagements, the focus straight away was on the team. We know the team was starting on an Agile journey but did we try to find out on why the teams were going Agile and how much did the management know about Agility?
In a lot of cases, teams are embarking on a Agile journey because the CIO or the CTO wants then to and this just gets pushed down to the managers and their teams. And what do you do as a manager, you do what your E level expects you to do.
In order to achieve sustainability, the first step should be about training the E managers about:
- How Agile delivery focuses on customer value?
- How planning will be restricted to next iteration only?
- How Agile will impact the way code/functionality is delivered today?
- What are the constraints that Agile will bring to how work gets done today?
- How does Agile impact the roles and responsibility that each member plays in the team?
In short, making management aware of Agile and building awareness about the business benefits Agile can return or simple introducing them to the Agile principles. Additionally, making sure that all victories (small or big) are made available to the business and management.
It is probably impossible to sustain Agility if the management does not know what they are getting into. So, before you get to the team, it probably is a good idea to coach the E.
Will talk about team congestion in a future post. Till then…..