Tag Archives: Coaching

When a plumber gave a crash course in consulting

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Source: rlmconsulting.be

 

The idea of consulting is typically associated with an individual with certain specialized skills that makes him an expert in an area. While the term “consultant” is generally associated with high profile areas of specialization, other kind of areas fit rather well into the definition of a consultant.

A close friend was recently sharing his experience where he needed to call in a plumber to a fix a leak behind a wall, however; he also went about researching the internet about how to solve the problem. Not to mention he used certain keywords while searching like “cheap ways”, “quick ways” and some more. He also searched for specific information about how plumbers have a tendency to exaggerate the problem towards generating a high margin. As it was time for the plumber to arrive, he was ready with how the problem should be fixed, what tools would be needed, how he would ensure that the fix was successful and steps he would take to shield himself from getting ripped.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-11-19-47-amThe plumber who seemed like a master in his trade had other thoughts. He was quick to diagnose the problem and suggest the fix which obviously was different from what my friend was expecting. During this period, the plumber was patiently listening to all the research that was done. There was some back and forth and the plumber left without fixing the problem.

Human mind is constantly engaged in the activity of forming opinions about people, society, profession etc. We try to appear smart, knowledgeable and experienced in the most unknown territories. This isn’t necessarily because every human knows everything but because we feel uncomfortable with how the person in front of us will perceive us if we said “I don’t know”. At the same time, this behavior does change in situations when the outcome has a higher degree of risk involved. For example, talking to a doctor about a possible fix to an ailment, we tend to trust the doctor to make the right decision with the end objective of a successful and full recovery. We do not even want to confront the doctor if what our research suggests is otherwise.

While organizations like to have control over what and how consultants solve problems, consultants needs to exhibit certain characteristics and ethics to justify the value for the price paid. Below are some characteristics that identify great consultants from the rest:

  • Listen – A consultant’s first strategy to build confidence is by listening and paying close attention. The 5 stages of listening (receiving, understanding, evaluating, remembering, and responding) supported by active listening (a technique that required the listener to provide feedback of what he or she hears to the speaker) help in empathizing with the situation and subsequently providing solutions or asking relevant questions.
  • Comfortable saying “No” – The fact that consultants are experts in their field gives them a upper hand in making recommendations that are based on skills, knowledge and experience. This also implies that addressing the problem in hand using the right means takes precedence over other measurements including doing things a certain way to keep the client happy. As an expert, a consultant should feel comfortable to disagree with the customer and provide evidence to support it.
  • Align strategic goals and measurements of success – Engagement of a consultant suggests that a certain expertise is needed in order to address a problem which the organization is unable to address by itself. In such a scenario, it becomes vital to understand the strategic goal behind engaging a consultant and the measurements of success both long term and short term. Often these discussions never take place and consultants are asked to follow orders and paint a picture that is expected.
  • Challenge and persist – Great consultants don’t give up. They accept frictions, unforeseen circumstances and negative feedback, they learn from them and they move on. They will analyze and learn from every setback in order to prevent it from happening again.
  • Do not get ahead of yourself – Being a consultant in a specific area does not mean that one works on the same set of problems. For example; the symptoms for the doctor to diagnose a problem can vary from patient to patient. A doctor cannot afford to assume that the second patient has the same problem as the first one given that the symptoms are same. Think and assess before giving a reference to how you faced similar challenges in the past and how they were addressed. Assessment of the problem along with creative thinking should happen before influencing the solution approach.
  • Expose problems and facilitate solutions – Consulting done by providing immediate solutions to problems is done with an intention of creating dependency. A great consultant refrains from providing solutions and instead helps in exposing problems so the organization can solve the problem itself. It is impractical for a consultant to get into a problem solving mode having been with the organization for a short period of time. Instead, a great consultant will use enquiry and facilitate conversations to expose problems so organizations can find the best possible solution(s).
  • Have a exit strategy – A consultant needs to have a well defined exit strategy which should be looked at all along the duration of the engagement. Exit can be a result of a successful solution of a problem or completion of the engagement or a realization where the consultant cannot fathom the value to be added. Either way, exit at the right time goes a long way in building trust with the customer and ensuring a long term relationship. As it a said, the greatest measurement is success if by how soon a consultant can work him/herself out of a job leaving behind a organization that is self sufficient.
  • Maintain transparency – Consultants need to feel comfortable sharing both the good and bad news. Consultants are bought in for a reason that things are not working in the first place. Given the high rates consultants get paid, some consultants refrain from or delay sharing bad news with the client assuming they will address the problem without bringing it to the notice of the customer. The fact is that most issues exposed sooner than later. Consultants should establish transparency as the key criteria of their relationship with the customer right at the start of the engagement. If this is done, a bad news will not come as a surprise for the customer and will only help in building trust and ensure ongoing collaboration in addressing issues and risks.
  • Accept you don’t know it all – Not knowing everything is normal, however; accepting that I do not know everything is difficult. No matter how experienced or qualified a consultant is, s/he will run into situations where the consultant might not have a opinion or an answer. This isn’t necessarily bad news. Acknowledging that I do not know something and then making an effort to research the solution elevates the relationship and provides opportunity to learn something new.

Consulting in the area of business, technology and other recent areas of innovation has forced other business like staffing to get into the consulting fold. Individuals and so called consulting organizations have started using the term rather loosely. While this has resulted in smoke around who consultants are what they do, it is important that consultants practice the above characteristics to bring some credibility back to the professional of consulting and help organization realize the benefits of value consultants offer.

If you are a consultant who exhibits a characteristic not captured here, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. Happy Consulting..

My podcast interview about Agile, Scrum and the Scrum Master role

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Image courtesy: cbc.ca

I am excited to share my latest podcast interview with Vasco Duarte where we discuss about agile and Scrum and get into details about the Scrum Master role all through this week. This podcast was recorded for the site http://scrum-master-toolbox.com/ to discuss various topics around challenges related to the Scrum Master role, some anti patterns to Scrum, change leadership, measurements of success for Scrum Masters and agile culture and mindset.

First 2 episodes are live now. Don’t forget to watch the upcoming 3 episodes (Wednesday through Friday) this week.

Please provide your feedback on the podcast, leave comments and like. Also reach out for any questions or if you would like to record a podcast for your site.

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Actions for retrospectives | Innovation games

Wanted to share my experience facilitating a retrospective for my team using the “Action for retrospectives” from innovation games. This is a excellent technique/game that allows the team to think about a retrospectives from multiple angles.

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The “appreciation” angle came as a big surprise. Appreciations came in from everyone, both at personal and team level and setup the right environment for the more difficult discussions to follow. It was a very clear indicator of the fact that the team members appreciate each other but never had an opportunity to bring that in the open. In fact the appreciations clearly out numbered the other angles mentioned below.

The “puzzle” angle was about raising issues that existed without any member of the team having any knowledge about any possible resolutions. However; it turned out to be slightly different. A key finding being that a puzzle for one team member was not necessarily a puzzle for others. It remained a puzzle for one due to lack of conversation and collaboration between team members. As soon as it was bought out, potential solutions were discussed and actions items identified.

The “risk” angle highlighted issues that team members were experiencing as individuals but rarely had an opportunity to bring it in front of the whole team. There were issues that belonged to more than one buckets, in which case we allowed the team to have duplicates across multiple angles.

The “wish” angle was all about inviting innovative ideas from the team to focus towards continuous improvement. The team thought outside the box and came up with great ideas.

What makes this tool effective is that it brings out the high priority issues that might have not have been noticed by the team. If the same issues exists multiple time as a problem under puzzle or risk and there are ideas to address it under the wish angle, the issue just emerges as the highest priority. The team can then choose to identify the top issues and define action items to address those issues.

Click here to see a detailed description of the technique and access the online version to use this tool with distributed teams.

 

Coaching? You got to be kidding..

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.

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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.

Agile Coaching, purpose and impact

Courtsey www.thecoachbusiness.com

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 :

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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  1. 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.
  1. 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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