Archive for the ‘Experience Report’ category

On Hiring An Agile Coach, How to Setup for Success

August 9, 2017

Hiring agile coaches is still very much a standard practice. Many organizations hire a cohort of coaches spread around the organization to help teach, train, and lead the teams towards their specific goal of agility (usually related to: better quality products delivered in a shorter increments).  There are indeed many benefits to agile coaching in the right circumstances (i.e. the team wants the outside help). The most critical time for ensuring success with a coach starts before the engagement – the pre-contract setup meeting in which current state, obstacles, and expectations are shared.  The team or its leadership asking for a coach must reflect on its current state, the state of the product (direction or strategy for the future), the dynamics of the team, external factors, the governance and software development processes, and its main points of pain (quality, speed, effectiveness – ROI). The team needs to have a sense of where it wants to focus its improvement so that it can become more responsive in its delivery of high quality software. It will hire a coach accordingly.   In a general sense, the team will have reflected enough to know that – with respect to agility – it is 

  • stuck in one or more patterns, that prevent quality or productivity, or general effectiveness. 
  • needs additional clarity about specific goals; and ways to reach the goals.  
  • has either communication or motivational issues which require individual or team coaching
  • wants to own the change….and the results

Given the above, the setup meeting I envision will encompass the following two topics: Goal Setting and Investment Thinking

Goal Setting: The coach and coachee (e.g. leadership and team) generate a common understanding of the specific goals as well as the skills, training, and facilitation needed of the coach to reach those goals. 

Goals should be measurable.  For example, if code quality is the burning issue preventing frequent delivery of features, then a coach versed in quality issues, software craftsmanship and Test Driven Development (TDD) will be suitable. The goal might be to reduce escaped defects by 50%.  Each agile coach has her own ‘book of knowledge’  on topics in the following areas (not an exhaustive list):  team dynamics, psychology, communication, organizational learning, management, agile methods (e.g. Scrum, XP, Kanban), processes and tools, systems thinking, software development, product ownership, lean startup, technical practices (e.g. TDD, ATDD, CI/CD), and scaled methodologies (e.g. LESS, SaFE, DAD).  It is important to find a fit that suits your situation well.  Find out more about the coach candidates and their strengths.  Broadly speaking, we can divide coaches into process coaches, technical coaches, and leadership coaches (focusing on communication and motivation) – but all coaches will be versed at a high level in many of the listed areas and have depth in a smaller number of areas.  

When needed, a coach should be able to call on other coaches in the organization to fill in any gaps.  For example, an agile coach focussing on process and methodology should be able to find assistance with CI/CD – DEVOPS expertise and bring in a short term trainer to fill a gap on the team they are coaching. A technical coach who is less comfortable with running retrospectives, should be able to ask someone with that experience in team facilitation to fill in.  The coach should be able to measure the goal and help you achieve it.

Investment Thinking: The coach shares with potential sponsor/hiring manager of the agile coach the ways in which they and the team will need to invest in the coaching. 

 If this step is skipped, you will encounter many bumps.  It is not uncommon for there to be some resistance to coaching involving change.  Many times it is due to pre-existing schedules and deadlines that are said to be ‘fixed’.  It can be due to fear that some might have of losing their jobs.  If we assume that ‘learning’ is the biggest impediment to a transition to agile, and that learning takes time, and we know that ‘there is no time’, no coaching will help. A coach running behind the busy people telling them what to do, just in time, will also fail.

Agile coaching involves the team learning new habits, and communicating in different ways about the work. Initially there will be knowledge transfer through training; knowledge acquisition (cementing the classroom knowledge) will come through the hands on work.  Doing is believing. A team that is willing to drop their own resistance and invest in some new ways of working together and communicating together will succeed. Management must support this. 

A coachee (leadership and team) will benefit most from a coach when they can recognize and verbalize their own resistance patterns and be open to talking about it.  A good coach will help them recognize these patterns early on.  Any team undergoing change will first experience a dip in productivity before the gains begin to take hold.  The timeline of a coaching intervention will be heavily dependent on the context, culture, and the size of the team.  Expect to have the team spend some portion of their work on learning and improvement.  Expect to experiment, and learn from failing too. This is learning.

General Principles of Coaching

If then, the initial improvements and goals are agreed to; management is invested in its own and its team’s ongoing learning activities;  and the skills of the specific coach are aligned to the desired improvements, the coach will come on board with a higher likelihood of success. The very best coach will seek to minimize the touch time with the team over time, and leave them in their own best state for learning on their own.   

The coach will be a powerful observer whose general stance will be to keep the team on track and to help them stay accountable to each other.  Although the coach will often wear the hat of a trainer and facilitator, she will, as much as possible, apply the general principles of coaching, namely:

  • A coach focuses on the agenda of the coachee (the goals and improvements they wish to achieve). The coachee decides which goals or problems to work on, not the coach. The coach can help them discover what they want most.
  • A coach uses powerful questions to generate new learning. The coach does not teach or advise, but asks questions and listens.  During coaching, the coach will help the team by facilitating sessions to find out more about the goals and areas where the team is stuck.  Many questions will be asked and orient the team towards finding solutions.
  • A coach encourages action. The coachee develops his or her own action steps, rather than waiting for assignments of the coach.
  • A coach supports change. A coach follows-up to support personal learning, growth, and change.

The reason we want to see general coaching principles applied to agile coaching is quite simple:  a team will feel more ownership, and the coach will be helping the team to generate its own best way forward.  Specific skills and knowledge of the coach can and should be brought into the mix when absolutely needed. However, it is much more powerful for a team to become a learning team, not reliant on the coach for spoon feeding answers.  A coach can help the team feel confident in its own choice, or steer them to select a new option if the first choice is not in the team’s best interest.  Only when the team is stuck, unable to think of options – should the coach provide an answer.
It is no wonder my recent tweet 
got so much attention.

There is so much work to do to teach people how to learn on their own again. It’s an art they have somewhat lost in the top down style org

This is what using the coaching principles can add.  If you have read “The Goal”, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, you will understand the power of these principles.

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This post was written from the vantage point of my own prior coaching experiences, many of which did NOT work out or align in the best way possible.  I have just rolled off what I hope is my last ever gig in an organization where agility is mandated and the teams do not genuinely request the coaching.

In the coming year I will be investing in Systemic Modeling training with Caitlin Walker who has achieved major cultural turn arounds in organizations seeking change with as little as 9 days of training, spread over a year with off and on remote coaching after that. I credit much of my thinking around the Setup process described above to her ‘Clean Setup‘ technique.

To hear an account of the effects of Systemic Modeling coaching, watch this video.  This type of work inspires me, and I hope that in the very near future, I can find engagements to do exactly this sort of intervention.   I am not giving up completely on agile coaching, but I will apply the above Setup criteria to whatever opportunity comes my way to ensure I am not ever in the position in which managers and leaders feign wanting the coach in a mandated agile program and then fail to invest in the coach when the coach is present.

Capital One – Can We Dance together?

July 15, 2017

<rant> I want to share my user experience trying to update my address on my business account with Capital One.   This is a bit of a customer-journey anti-pattern…

I recently moved, so I wanted to change the address associated with my Business checking account.

First, I logged in online to the business side of the bank hoping I could change the address online.  I looked at my profile where the address is shown. It only gave me an option to phone the bank, so I did.

After waiting at least 20 minutes, I got a person who said, that I had landed on the wrong side (personal banking).  I had to call a different toll-free number for the business. So I dialed the number she gave me: 1-888-755-2172.

Again I was warned of long wait times. I waited, but while I was waiting the automated teller voice insisted on verifying my identity through SSN/EIN in combination with the pin code I must have set up when I set up the account.  I failed to recall the correct PIN, and the automated voice signaled that I would ‘need assistance’… so I continued to wait for a real person.   Eventually the person who could provide ‘assistance’ came online, but she said I was not on the business side after all.  [I had had a sneaky suspicion that I had been re-routed without being notified]

I was really losing my cool this time.  She remained very professional and calm.  She asked me what number I had dialed. I told her. She said, ‘Yes, that is the external business number.  I am not sure why you ended up with me.’  (must have been the incorrect pin attempts) ‘But, we have an internal business number I can put you through to.’   I said, ‘Well please try, but I am beginning to doubt that I will ever be able to change my address with you.  Perhaps I should just change banks.’   She said ‘I am so sorry’ again.    I waited again, for a very long time.

I am really frustrated by this experience.   If Capital One could even do something as SIMPLE as providing an email where I could send my updated VA Articles of Incorporation document which has the correct address – they could put the request into their processing queue, and I would be happy not having to experience:  Over an HOUR of waiting with the same lobby, tinny, incredibly boring music, interrupted every 2 minutes with ‘We are continuing to experience high call volumes.  Your Call is Extremely Important to us. Please continue to hold and an Associate will be with you in a moment…’

Capital One – please treat the user experience as an end-to-end process and don’t optimize for the components in the middle.  Training your phone reps well is all good, but doesn’t really add that much to my experience when I can’t get my address changed in under ten minutes.  

As I end this post, which has been written while I’ve been on hold, I have finally gotten the address updated.  I did insist that the rep notate the exact path of what happened, and forward it on to 1.) content managers for the profile/address change page and 2.) phone call routing admins who can maybe change the routing  when one is unable to authenticate on the business side – so that one lands with the business anyway.
Let’s get this system working.  And please adjust the on-duty call staff to be able to accommodate the demand on the system.  </end rant>

Listening for Metaphors in Interviews

April 12, 2017

Here’s what I listen for when I interview: metaphors.  I use metaphor-listening to draw some tentative conclusions about a person’s thinking. I do this out of habit from the skills I’ve developed as a Clean Language coach.

Here are some metaphors used by a recruiter in a recent interview:

‘raw shootout’ to describe the competitive coaches market,   

                      literal meaning of shootout: “a decisive gun battle”

‘running you through the gauntlet’ to describe the customer interview process 

literal meaning:  “a former punishment, chiefly military, in which the offender was made to run between two rows of men who struck at him with switches or weapons as he passed”  

‘put in a pipeline’ to describe what happens to me next

literal meaning of pipeline: “a long pipe, typically underground, for conveying oil, gas, etc., over long distances” 

I soon developed an image of a big filter entering the ground, where I and other ‘resources’ who had survived duking it out, and harsh interrogations would be dumped into the delivery mechanism to fuel that Big Agile industrial complex.

These metaphors do not align with my values.  The interviewer was clearly not aware of his own metaphors.  There were no other metaphors that described an alternate reality or an alternate mental model in that interview. I do not judge, but I do notice how I feel and react. 

I am learning the realities of big placement companies with big revenue numbers that lack focus on what really matters:  the connections that people make with each other to gain trust, build alliances, create great products, and instill humanity back in the work force.

Agility is harder than you might think without this.  Connections do matter. And so do contractual relationships which need to be built on a foundation of trust, transparency, and a healthy does of shared values.

What do you listen for in interviews?
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If you are interested in forging stronger bonds, safety, trust, engagement, authenticity at work, do check out my upcoming one day (very small) retreat on the weekend of May 6th.  Accepting up to 6 people on a pay-as-you-can basis.

Gratitude and Hopes: My 2016 and 2017 in review!

December 31, 2016
I am grateful for so much in 2016 and have many hopes for 2017 as well.  Here are some highlights:
 

An Ending and New Beginning: I have ended a 29 year marriage and begun a life of economic and emotional independence.  

photo-dec-31-10-46-00-am

Our marriage certificate from 1987

The marriage began in a far away place, was sustained as we built a family, but faltered as the kids became adults, and I ventured into a mode of self discovery, growth, learning, and coaching.  I am sad it couldn’t last through that change. And I am grateful that we both finally acknowledged our need to live apart.  Grateful for the years we did have together, even the difficult ones.

 
Vision, Action, and Results: I started my own business – Connections At Work, and have been coaching leaders, managers,and teams at Fannie Mae  as an independent contractor.  I’ve had some amazing testimonials from a few clients this year.  Here is one that came to me in a New Year’s email from my dear friend, Kathy Kidd:
“Getting the chance to know you has been one of the highlights of the year for me.   Your generosity, kindness, enthusiasm, and passion for making the work world a much more human and connected place makes such a difference.”  
I am proud of this!
 
Courage: I am more bold and audacious with my clients now, not simply teaching or supporting the agile and Kanban core competencies and practices, but reaching for the most effective experiential learning opportunities I can offer that will make a difference in how people connect, communicate, and build things that make a difference.  It is really a sort of mindset training – a way to influence people in how they think, solve problems, collaborate – and I love this work more than anything else.
 

Learning, Growth, Exploration:  In 2016, I also had 3 amazing trips. In January of 2016, I went to Santa Barbara and gave a talk on Clean Language to the Santa Barbara Lean Agile Meetup group, visited with a second cousin there, and then drove up the coast to be with Clean Language experts, James Lawley, Penny Tompkins, and Sharon Small for 10 days. That was a huge highlight of my year and truly helped sustain me throughout the rest of the year.

In April, I went to Boston – to the Agile Games Conference and the Mob Programming Conferences.  There I ran a session of Featureban game – a game I’ve been using a lot to teach Kanban concept of flow and limiting Work in Process.  I learned this game because of two leaders in the Kanban community who invented and socialized the game.  I subsequently joined the Agendashift community online (thank you Mike!) – for additional surveys and tools to help me in my consulting work and eventually met both Karl Scotland and Mike Burrows (see pic below) on my third trip of the year.  I much enjoyed the Mob Programming experience as well – getting me a bit farther back to my programming days – seeing how to get the best knowledge from the group’s individuals into the code – collaboratively.  I also got to visit my mother’s childhood home in Newton.  Memories!

The third trip was to Edinburgh, Scotland to run another Clean Language workshop at the Lean Agile Conference.   I met up with some European friends

agendashift-workshop

Agendashift Worksop with Mike Burrows and Karl Scotland

for the first time and was also able to visit with the son of my Santa Barbara second cousin – (that is my second cousin once removed), who teaches Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.  I am amazed that I am able to connect with interesting members of my more distant family on the same trips as my conferences! I am truly blessed!  These were not the first such ventures, and hopefully not the last either!   It was, like the others, an amazing conference too.

This year, I also invested in two workshops given online by some wonderfully inspiring women. Lisette Sutherland’s Work Together Anywhere Workshop and Leslie Zucker’s Deliver Workshops that Bring In Clients. Both online workshops were well thought out and delivered flawlessly and I took a lot away for my ever growing toolkit.

 
Self-reliance: Here’s something surprising. In 2016, I returned to coding and built myself some budgeting and tracking software that makes my life so much easier, especially with my business. code-snippetI am so proud of that. And while I was at it, I learned how to do it using Test-Driven Development.  I had had this goal – to not just know ‘of’ this hugely important agile practice, but to experience it first hand. And I did that! 
 
Resilience: In between all of these things and work, I was able to clean out a substantial amount of accumulated stuff of 30 years. I have pared down by getting rid of 90% of unneeded stuff to make a move out of this house possible. I feel proud of that.  Letting go requires a lot of emotional resilience.
 
Hard work: I power washed the pool deck, the front walkways and the large wood deck behind the house. I put waterproof sealant down on the deck as well.  Only way I got through that was listening to interesting podcasts at the same time. 
 
Self care: I started seeing a chiropractor on a regular basis.  This has been a godsend for my back and physical well-being.  
 

Reliability:  In 2016, I supported my daughter in her dream to leave corporate America and start her own business.  She runs Christie Bailey Fitness now, and is coaching other young women, and very active in social media – now with 10 thousand followers on Instagram.   She is a top-five contender for bodybuilding.com’s spokesperson of the year contest and will be flown to Boise, ID, then on to Los Angeles this coming week for the finals, interviews and lots of photo shoots.  It’ll be exciting to see what comes from this experience.  I am proud that she has the courage to pursue her dreams and to not let negative things or economic uncertainty get in her way!  This is inspiring. (update on 1/7/17 —-> SHE WON!)

She and I (and my ex) have tried the best we can to support my other child, who is taking a path that is slow, unintentional, difficult, bumpy, and very far from a path that leads to economic independence…. The good news is that this child is working full time at a hospital ER as a technical aide. That gives me a little hope, and yet the night shifts and day sleep can be detrimental to health and certainly that makes taking even 1 college class challenging.  Video-gaming takes up most of the rest of the waking hours for this child. Any information anyone has on rehab for gamers – please do share – even if I can’t make force this child to acknowledge the addiction – at least I will be equipped with more information.  Further attention to the mental and physical well being of this kid will form a significant part of my effort no matter where I am or where I go… I am glad they both can rely on me, and I can support them in the best way I know how – through love and belief in them.

 
For 2017 hopes and wishes: What I would like to have happen in 2017? 
 
I would like pay exquisite attention to my own health and welfare, so that I can get my other goals accomplished!
 
I would like to reach out more frequently to ask for help from the amazing coaches I know.
 
I would like to make every week that I work include one or more of my mindset related experiential trainings.  
 
I would like to add new clients to my business.
 
I would like to design a logo for my business and publicize more about my success and techniques.
 
I would like to submit proposals to teach at new conferences and meet ups that I have not yet attended.
 
I would like to write more blogs and collaborate on a book with Sharon Small.
 
I would like to go back to Liverpool and train in Systemic Modeling with Caitlin Walker.
 
I would like to be even more supportive and find resources for my second kid – especially with respect to the gaming addiction (universe, please send me advice!)

I would like to start exploring moving to Europe – what would it take? Could I find work there? What are the visa hurdles?
 
I would like to explore selling my house so that when the time is right, it can be done quickly and effectively.
 
I wish everyone a wonderful year ahead, filled with whatever it is that YOU would like to have happen in your life! Thanks for being with me on my various journeys and do stay in touch! 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Temenos Retreat – A Journey of Change

April 23, 2012

View from Kayser Ridge log cabin

Temenos

Temenos is a retreat experience created and inspired by the life work of Siraj Sirajuddin, who is also my personal coach. Siraj has been using the Temenos retreat format in his work with organizations that are undergoing change.  This past weekend a group of 5, including Siraj, headed up to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, to beautiful mountaintop log cabin called Kayser Ridge that is used throughout the year for various sorts of retreats.  The group itself was not formerly connected through a work setting – we had all chosen to join in this experience to 1.) Learn Siraj’s techniques for facilitating group change through experiencing them as a group and 2.) Explore our own life journey and our own dreams and visions for the future of our individual work

Backing up a bit, let me explain a bit about the concept of this retreat. Temenos means container in Greek.  The container can be thought of in this context as the space, energy and interactions created between people. A marriage is a container. A group at work is a container. A set of people on a retreat is a container. Just use your imagination to think of all the containers you step into and out of in your daily work.  The significance and usefulness of this concept lies in the acknowledgement and respect given to the container while contributing to the development of its potential.  What I mean by this is that by ‘naming’ and using the word ‘container’, we have consciously acknowledged that we are more than loosely networked individuals – we have purpose as a group and goals to reach.  While we are in the container, we give our full attention to its purpose and growth.

As a change agent sharing this technique, Siraj both observes the container and participates within the container. Siraj moved in and out of these two roles, guiding the container and modeling the techniques for us to practice and learn.  On the retreat, Siraj was mostly inside the container – as he modeled the activities and responded to others as a participant, but at times he would stop us and say he was stepping outside the container to give us the meta-level view of what he was observing about our container. As a change agent, practicing the meta-level view of observation of course requires an extra level of thinking and abstraction. And even purely just as a participant, the listening required during the entire weekend (11 or 12 hours each day) was intense.

A short blog can’t possibly do justice to the experience of the Temenos retreat. However, I would like to share some of the techniques and learnings.

Check In

This was our ‘entry’ mechanism – a familiar round of introductions by each member of our group. We shared briefly our inspiration for coming and hopes for the session.

Introduction

Siraj gave an introduction to the timeline for our work and introduced us to his big-picture model for change agency. Suffice it to say that within the introductory framework, there was something called Personal Vision. To achieve personal vision, one starts by creating an Influence Map, which we did next.

Influence Maps

Influence Maps are pictorial representations of our life stories. Each person independently reflects and draws the events of his or her life that they feel compelled to share. The maps can be depicted in any way and with text if desired. When everyone is done, we take turns telling our life stories. Each person in our retreat took 1.5 to 2 hours for the sharing portion, including time for some open questions at the end.  You have to experience this to know – but what happens is that a web of incredible emotional, intellectual, and social connections is built between all the members of the container. We found not only during this exercise, but emanating from this exercise over the course of the weekend, that connection points between us spanned experiences of pain, growth, struggles, places, relationships, and much more. One person commented at the end:  ‘It is absolutely riveting to realize how little we know about other people.’

After completing the maps, we stepped outside the container to briefly record our learning from this exercise. I noticed

  • Listening is a form of respect and is an art and a discipline.
  • Influence Maps involves intense storytelling of a very personal nature. These create empathy hooks between people and connect the space between the members of the container.
  • Small changes in awareness of the person that sits opposite you have a large impact on how you interact with them in the present and the future.
  • Later presentations are more intense – I believe this is due to the slow build of safety in the container – that people feel more able to share more about their past and think of things they might not have initially depicted on their own maps. I like to say of this phenomenon: ‘the connections become thicker’.

Clean Slate

The next exercise we did was Clean Slate. Clean Slate is an essential element of the change process. It combines a look back over your past and a hard look at the present. So here is how it works. Each person answers first this question: How have, in the past, one or more of the ‘container’ systems you have been in failed you? You answer this with 5 or 6 examples and then continue with answering this question: How have you failed these container systems? The group reassembles and shares the results… This process clears the air through acknowledgement and forgiveness and allows you to move into a better pattern. In some organizations Siraj has coached, the organization has benefitted from this cleansing activity so much that they have implemented variants of ‘Clean Slate’ on a regular basis (similar to say a retrospective) with incredible success.  My learning from this section was entirely related to the second question and how it interplays with the dysfunctions described in my answers to the first question. I was able to explore my own accountability as a player in the ‘containers’ that I perceived as having failed me.

Personal Vision

After Clean Slate, we went on to draw our Mandalas. Mandalas are picture/symbolic representations of our future. How do we see our personal future in a  picture without words?  Each drew and we followed with presentation, comments and feedback. At this point, the container was so resilient and comfortable for everyone that I sensed a vested interest by each participant in the future vision of each other person. This aspect of the retreat was extremely intense for that reason.  As a group that had JUST come together, that did not know each other well, we were able to bond over the network of shared past-history story elements to appreciate fully the future visions and positive outcomes for each other.

Compelling Shared Vision

The next step break up into pairs to create a picture of our Compelling Shared Vision. In an organization this would pertain to the organizational container represented by the people doing the drawing. In our case, we paired with people we knew from our retreat without an organizational context, but we still came up with amazing shared visions of a future that we might support each other with. We brought forth all those shared personal connections from the Influence Maps to weave a new tapestry for the future. These maps combined the personal and the shared into one.  It was a little hard to get started since we are not related to each other through a work environment, but we did achieve beautiful shared visions anyway. Each team of two shared its drawing and explained it to the others. We ran out of time to then create a shared Mandala which would have represented our more global shared vision for all four of us. You can imagine how this might be useful with an executive leadership group in an organization.  This was very powerful sharing and visioning.

At this point day 2 was almost over and some people had to leave early. We wrapped up by exploring the process of ‘exiting’ a container and re-entering a different container. Based on the changes we experienced in our ‘retreat’ container, how would entering back into our ‘family’ containers be difficult or different and how would we ease that process.  This discussion helped us understand the impact of change on the surrounding environments and how other containers could benefit from our changes, but only if respecting the new (container) – the one we were entering back to.  My take away from this and the whole weekend in general was that the web and sphere of influence is complex. It is an interaction of containers with each other, of a container with its participants, and of the participants with each other within a container. All of these interactions are dynamic and changing over time and over space.

We also covered some more advanced concepts of Siraj’s work:

  • attributes of a container (too many to mention and we only covered the surface of each)
  • typical archetypes (influencers in service of the container) in organizations

Exit

We each checked out by summarizing our appreciations to each person and wondering how we would absorb all of this into our professional and personal lives. It is really the beginning of a fascinating journey of change.  We will stay in support of each other and reconnect through social media.

To my fellow participants, thanks for a wonderful experience!

To readers who want another participant’s view of this retreat, please read this blog by Peter Stevens, Scrum Coach and Trainer!