Posts tagged coaching
How Is A Coach Like A Vampire?

Vampires are lame. There it is, standing at your front door, cape, fangs, the full works. You have opened the door, it's looking at you, getting hungrier and hungrier. It's starting to drool. You are looking at it from inside. Giving it the finger. Perfectly safe. Why? Because according to the stories, vampires need permission to enter. You are perfectly safe as long as you don't say "please come in". Of course if they catch you out in the open later without a front door to give you protection, you might just regret giving them that finger.

So why am I telling you this? Because coaches have something in common with vampires. Capes? No. Because we descend on organisations and suck them dry? No. It's because we also need permission before we can do what we are there to do. We need permission to coach. But surely, I hear you say, you have permission. After all, you have been hired to coach, therefore you have permission to do so. Sadly, it's not that simple. What we usually have is permission to be there, not permission to coach.

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Leaders Are Not An Alien Species

I have been talking a lot about leadership and the part leadership plays in agility. A lot of the feedback I get on that are comments along the lines of "that's great but I can't talk to leaders". When I dig further, there are two separate problems here. One is an access problem. Some organisations make it difficult to talk to leaders, and sometimes someone will be in an engagement at a level where access is extremely difficult to arrange. Team coaches can often find it hard to get access to senior leaders because they are engaged at the team level. There isn't much I can do about that problem. The other class of people are ones who basically respond "because I don't know how".

The facetious answer is "well you engage your brain, open your mouth and words come out". But so many people have said it that it got me wondering why. Why do so many people have this in their heads? Why do so many people say to me that " you can't just walk up to leaders and talk to them, you need to handle them differently". Why do I keep getting told that "only specialist leadership coaches can talk to leaders"? Apart from specialist leadership coaches trying to secure their future work pipeline, that is all absolute crap. Leaders are people just like the rest of us, with the same concerns and pressures as the rest of us. They are not some alien species that needs to be handled in a special way. I think the main problem is a language one. People start talking to leaders in the same way they talk to teams and it just doesn't connect. Then they get discouraged and leaders become this remote species that you can't talk to. So I'm going to give you my 7 point cheat sheet for leadership communication to help get those conversations started.

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Why Do Agile Teams Slip?

"Come and have a look at my team" says my new stakeholder. "We have been doing agile for a few years now and while we started well, I think we have slipped back to old habits". How often have you heard this when starting a new engagement? Quite often? What do you see when you take a look? It's usually lack of planning, absence of meaningful retrospectives, ineffective standups, lax WIP limits, poor metrics, mini waterfalls. Yep. They have slipped all right.

When you ask the team why they think they have slipped, you will usually get answers like "we scaled up and things went wrong" or "the rest of the organisation is pulling us back" or "some key people left" or something like that. In my experience these are never the real reason. They may have contributed, but the underlying problem is something else entirely. That underlying problem is almost always the same - they never had the basics right in the first place.

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When To Remove The Training Wheels

We were having a discussion about coaching teams at work a few weeks ago, in particular how deeply embedded a coach should be, so I naturally got to thinking about teaching kids to ride bikes. I know that sounds like a stretch but stick with me. Back quite a few years ago when I was teaching my kids how to ride, I did a lot of observing of other parents and, being a geek, did a bunch of reading online about how to go about it. There are generally two accepted ways to teach kid to ride and the difference is on how long to leave the training wheels on.

Method one leaves the training wheels on for a long time - until the child is "fully confident" and the second leaves the training wheels on for the shortest possible time (there is a third radical method that rejects the training wheel altogether but we shall leave such heresy out of this discussion for now). I was, for the record, a method two parent but I observed a lot of parents using both methods. Method one is the intuitive one - leave the training wheels on until the kids knows how to ride then take them off and away they go. Easy. Trouble is, it quite often doesn't work out that way because training wheels have some significant disadvantages.

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Capability Building In Practice

Last time we looked at how to transform large organisations by building capability internally rather than buying capability externally. There are a lot of benefits to this approach. It's faster. It's cheaper. It's more effective. But it does fundamentally change the way an organisation sees its agile transformation program.

Most of the time, a traditional coach-led transformation program is set up to minimise the disruption to staff. Apart from some training and a new way of working (and maybe a slight blurring of strict job titles), the organisation sees its staff doing pretty much exactly the same thing they were doing before the change. Developers develop, testers test, they just do it in a new, agile way. With an internally-led transformation, this is not the case. A significant number of staff will be involved in this program for a long time. This will impact their day jobs. So the first rule of internally-led transformations is - give people time.

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Coaching vs Capability Building

If you work for a large organisation and you want to transform the way you work to be more agile, what's the first thing you do? Chances are it's hiring a coach or two. That's not a bad way to start. Experienced people to guide the transformation make things much easier. But what do you do once the first pilot is done, you have proven that it works and demand is growing? More and more people are wanting agility. Your current coaches can't handle the load. What do you do?

What most organisations do is here some more coaches. And some more coaches, and more coaches and more as demand continues to grow. Now, as an agile coach, this has kept me in work for many years so I may be shooting myself in the foot a little when I say that this is a really lousy way to do an agile transformation. Yes, that's right. You heard it. An agile coach says that hiring a bunch of agile coaches is not a good way to transform an organisation. Let's look at why and then look at how we can do things better.

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Executive coaching part 5 - Control

For the last few weeks (interrupted briefly by the holiday break) we have been looking at executive coaching. We have taken a look at some of the big problems executives face and at some of the ways we can use agile tools to help resolve them. We have looked at resource planningcontrolling financial spend and estimating ROI. All these things, though, are manifestations of a more fundamental problem - the problem of control. Control is a real issue for executives. They are responsible for a P&L. They have business goals to meet. They have people under them to meet those goals. They are expected to be in control.

In a traditional environment they maintain control through their position as central decision maker. Any significant decision will be funneled up through them. In an agile environment we recognise that centralised decision making is slow and inefficient, so we decentralise the decision making for efficiency. The problem is that, to the exec, we have taken away their decision making (and therefore their control) and not given them any other control mechanism to replace it. Without some alternative control mechanism, execs in an agile environment will continue to rely on their old control mechanism - centralised decision making - to the detriment of the agility of the group. All the unnecessary steering committees, status reports, executive briefings, financial controls, and so on are all manifestations of this fundamental problem - how does an executive maintain control when they are no longer the one making all the key decisions?

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Executive Coaching Part 4 - Return On Investment

We have been looking at executive coaching and what sorts of conversations we can have with them as coaches. So far we have looked at resource management and financial control.  Continuing on our theme,  I'll be looking at the next burning question execs tend to have -  "How do I ensure good ROI in an agile environment?"

ROI is a term that frightens non financial folks but what it boils down to is "am I getting good value for my money?" Is the money I am spending giving me enough benefit to justify spending it? In a traditional organisation, ROI is managed through the business case and estimation processes. The business case will set out a number of benefits and the estimation process will work out how much it  will cost to deliver those benefits. In an agile environment, we don't go through those processes.  We don't do detailed up front estimates.  So how does the person in charge -  the person whose money we are spending - make sure they are getting good value?

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