Questions to ask to Kick Start Agile Adoption – Part I of II

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As a consultant coach, each client engagement is a learning experience and a great opportunity to gather these learnings and come up with an improved and effective way of providing enhanced value. While each client is unique in many ways, there are questions that need to be asked at the front end of an engagement to help the client in better decision making.

This checklist is based purely on my personal experience and the application of these suggestions should be done on a case by case basis. For me personally, this checklist should be looked at very early, in some cases before signing a contract to helps build trust and sets the stage for a more engaging partnership. So, here you go:

Establish Vision and Create Alignment – Is there a clear vision for the impact we are trying to create with the move to agile? Alignment is a term mentioned in almost all of the posts that I have written so far and it continues to be the single most important aspect of any successful initiative. One of the most important questions for me to ask the client as I walk in is “Why agile? What problem are we trying to solve with agile?”. It is important that the expectation is clearly understood. In some cases, a facilitated conversation can help the client come up with an answer. Geese-iStock-small

The timing of this discussion is important too. If a consulting engagement starts without the objectives or intent, the partnership can turn sour pretty fast. A shared understanding of the vision can go a long way in building trust and lead to meaningful conversations and articulating of a roadmap to get there.

Inspire change, top-down How will leadership INSPIRE and ENABLE agility? Almost every single time during my first few interactions with the client (someone who is going to pay for my services), there is a feeling about the manager highlighting the need for agility for a certain part of the organization. At no point have I heard a client start with asking a question “How can I partner in enabling agility?”. It comes across as agility being something that is expected but not practiced.

Inspire-LogopngPeter Block in his book titled Flawless Consulting talks extensively about contracts. I treat it more as “terms of agreement” where I like to encourage the client to have some skin in the game in order to become catalysts and enablers of agility. This agreement is extremely important to arrive as early as possible.

A symptom where the leaders/managers check themselves out from training or workshops or are not involved in the earlier adoption activities is an early warning sign that the leader is looking at agility to be limited to the team or it may also be a sigh of resistance towards change.

The fact that leadership is enabling and driving agility and is creating an environment where the teams can afford to experiment and fail, helps creates an ideal environment for change.

Let Business Drive Agility Does the business understand agility and what this change will mean for them?  Business agility drives success or failure of every agile adoption effort. The ability of a Product Owner to think strategically and support through collaborative tactical activities makes the role indispensable.

6a0133f5884316970b019b0006ad3e970dThe biggest beneficiary of every agile adoption is business and its customers. An agile setup that works for a business that lacks vision, strategy and a roadmap to achieve the end goal is a meaningless setup. It is critical for a business to drive agility by creating business alignment and ensuring all interested parties understand what is achievable in the short and long term. A business that is able to create an interest in a problem and a passion to develop a solution and, ensures value delivery in changing market conditions through the right engagement of all stakeholders (business and engineering) becomes an enabler for organizational agility. The absence of business agility will lead to frustrated customers, value deprived outcomes and, non-motivated team members.

Structural ChangesAre we open to structural changes (feature teams, roles, management, business etc..)? A common pattern that eliminates the impact of the agile way of working or specifically using Scrum is the resistance to make any structural changes. This results in organizations trying to force fit the new process into existing structures resulting in the process losing its impact.

round_hole_square_peg_6617There is a reason why agile produces best results for organizations that are less complicated, have self-organizing and cross-functional feature teams that can own and deliver incremental business capabilities. By not committing to making the needed structural changes, it is pretty much like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Having a clear understanding of structural changes are possible or not, will help organizations avoid the effort of making agility work on a nonagile setup.

Partial Agility is no AgilityHow are we planning to provide the supporting structures that encourage and enable agility? A common impediment in the way of teams that are trying to adapt to agile methods are the surrounding nonagile aspects of the organization. These include (but are not limited to) project planning and funding methods, hiring and sourcing practices, progress tracking, management and leadership styles and more. Trying to exist in such nonagile environment, a team will end up getting distracted leading to frustration and ultimately getting into the “this will not work for us” mindset.

Special attention needs to be paid to certain critical organizational aspects that will act as a support system to implement the change and show an incremental success. This may lead to some parts to support two distinct working models but this is generally a temporary state with handsome payback in the long run.

In the next part, we will look at some more powerful questions that should be asked at the front end of any agile adoption. Until then, be agile….

 

 

Mindful Interviewing – How to be a great interviewer

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I work as an agile coach and a coach interview can be a very interesting experience, irrespective of which side of the table you are. This is primarily due to the unique experiences that can influence the interview experience. Not to mention, an interviewer has an upper hand given that s/he is the decision maker. I have been an interviewer for about 50+ candidates in the last 1+ year and recently went through the experience of being interviewed.

The experience of being interviewed presented me with an opportunity to introspect and assess the experience of being on either side of the table. Rather the interview gave me insight into what I should NOT be doing as an interviewer. At the end, I came up with the following key aspects of the interview process. Note that suggestions below focus on the behavioral and soft skills aspects of the interviewer and by no means are limited to the Agile Coach interview only.

Have a conversation and never take over – Great interviews are about great conversations. Interviewers can get tempted to ask questions in areas that they are most comfortable in, and in the process take over the conversation. This can easily turn into a self-boasting speech leaving the candidate high and dry with no opportunity to express self.

Be conscious about presenting the candidate with the opportunity to share stories and ideas in order to gauge his/her experience and job fit.

Listen – Listening can be the simplest but trickiest part of a conversation. The use of words, the body language, the tone can go a long way in conveying a whole lot about the interviewee. Flexible listening can help judge the need for cross-questioning, further probing or moving to a different topic.

Additionally, the ability to inject an unexpected pause can be a powerful tool in extracting more information on a topic being discussed.

As described by journalist Jim Lehrer:

“If you resist the temptation to respond too quickly to the answer, you’ll discover something almost magical. The other person will either expand on what he’s already said or he’ll go in a different direction. Either way, he’s expanding his response, and you get a clear view into his head and heart.”

Refrain from creating a perception too soon – Looking at a candidate’s profile on LinkedIn, reading through the recommendations etc is a common way to know about the candidate ahead of time. While this is a great approach to gauge his/her experience and standing, one should not create a perception of the candidate on the basis of this information.

The beauty of perception is that you can adjust it based on your needs. Since perceptions can be a result of someone else’s opinion, it can limit the flexibility your mind can offer in assessing the candidate. So, focus on findings and leave perceptions aside.

Beware of how what book you are reading influences the interview – People like me who are avid readers constantly come across new ideas and opinions on topics. While these ideas and opinions are not ours, we can easily make them our own and throw it across to the interview to assess what they think. However; if you feel the topic is relevant and there is value in having a conversation, be transparent and mention the book and invite their opinion.

Refrain from selling the idea as your’s with an intention of demeaning the candidate. Be conscious of why you are bringing up the point and clarify expectations.

Be Curious – Curiosity is one of the most simple and most important attributes of a great interviewer. Curiosity influences how people are perceived and changes the mindset from that of someone looking at the negative aspects versus someone who is always curious and looking for opportunities and experiences to learn and grow.

As Dale Carnegie famously explains in his book titled “How to win friends and influence people”, the beauty of curiosity is that it makes you nearly irresistible to everyone around you.

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Understand personality and style – One of the first things I do at the start of the interview is to ask the candidate to share his/her style of coaching and anything else that tells me about the personality that they carry. This helps set the stage for the questions and scenarios that follow. It also provides an opportunity to assess gaps in the style and personality explained and what emerges from the conversations to follow. While there can be commonalities in styles and personalities enforced through processes in technical or engineering roles when it comes to consulting, every individual has a unique style that typically works in alignment with the personality and in their unique circumstances.

I consider myself an introvert and have my own style which is based on empathy, relationships and ultimately a strong partnership which might be interpreted differently by an extrovert interviewer or someone with a strong personality.

Understand the personality up front for a more engaged conversation later.

Don’t forget your role as an interviewer – It can be quite easy for an interviewer to get on to a self-boasting ride and in the process loose opportunity to listen and assess the candidate. It is critical to remind yourself that you are the interviewer and the purpose of being together is to assess the person in front of you.

Throwing across your opinions, your style, and your solutions will lead to a one-way conversation. This might give you a temporary feeling of a winner but the core objective of the interview would have been lost.

Suspend your ego – Ego suspension is essential in cultivating the kind of curiosity that helps you connect with the person in front of you. Creating the opportunity for the interviewee to disagree with you is critical for a constructive conversation.

As author Tom Wolfe puts it, “the world is full of people with information-compulsion who want to tell you their stories. They want to tell you things that you don’t know. They’re some of the greatest allies that any writer has.”

Feedback – Not providing feedback or discussing next steps can be both rude and unprofessional. Getting feedback from the interviewer presents the opportunity for the interviewee to ask clarifying questions and in some cases remove any miscommunication that might have occurred during the discussion. In fact getting feedback about the interview from the candidate is easily important to enhance the experience for the next candidate.

To close out, while you read all the above points about the interview; wearing an interviewee’s hat will help assess the importance in a much better way.

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Read this and other posts on my LinkedIn profile.

 

 

 

 

How value drives behavior

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Being a coach, the term value has become an integral part of my vocabulary, so much so that I feel it drops of my mouth a couple thousand times each day. As I watch people around me do stuff each day, my mind would subconsciously want to know the value of their action. However, thankfully I have managed to somehow keep the question limited to my actions and limit all the data my mind needs to process each day.

As much as this has been helpful, the value conversation keeps coming up as part of my engagement with my clients and people. The more I question the value of something, the more I realize that what we value defines how people act.

As a consultant, I do a lot of travel. Coming home at the end of the week, carrying the baggage of all the good and bad that has occurred during the week, one thing that used to impact me the most was the condition of my house. If my family room was a mess or the game room had stuff lying all around, I know and my family knows that I won’t be very happy. So on the day of my arrival home, some effort is spent on ensuring that the house is in order. This does not mean that the house was that way all week long. It is a weekend phenomenon. What is worth noticing is that something that I value has changed how my kids reach on the day I come home but it has not necessarily influenced them to keep the house in order all week long. They want to keep the noise away when I am around.

There are similar observations that I have from the companies and teams I have coached. If the leader values is a good looking power point (green) status report, that is what the everyone spends all the time creating. What is worst is how it impacts how managers apply control on their teams to make sure things stay green. They don’t want to be exposed and vulnerability is not an option. Additionally, this causes decision making to happen not where the skills are because value is not based on trust but the force that is exerted to produce what the leader cares about.

So if you are a leader (not a manager), what is valuable to you or maybe a better question is, what is it like working for you? When your teams talk about value, do they talk about power points or the product we are trying to build or the service that your customer cares about. Think about it because what you say will impact how people think, behave, eat, drink and sleep.

BTW, my weekends are now spent cleaning up the house. If that is valuable for me, I got to make it happen and hopefully will inspire them.