The Agile Coach's Guide To The Galaxy

  • Agile,  Coaching

    3 Powerful Observation Techniques

    Some agile coaches and managers are uncomfortable with setting expectations, offering feedback, and making decisions on behalf of other people, and they go around asking powerful questions. “Who am I tell people what to do in our autonomous organisation?” they sometimes say. However, utilizing powerful questions when there is a specific answer that the team needs to arrive at only allows the situation to continue, can damage your relationships, and can sub divide your team. One alternative to asking powerful questions is making powerful observations and in this blogpost I share three different examples of how to make and visualize powerful observations. Making powerful observations helps teams see themselves which makes…

  • Agile,  Organisation

    The buckets exercise

    In order for organisations to become conducive to high performing teams it is crucial that managers have time and mental capacity to engage in complex problem solving. Unfortunately many organisations place an emphasis on starting work which diminishes managements capability of building a high performing organisation. To help managers free up time and mental capacity I’ve run an exercise with them called “Buckets”[1]. In this exercise managers get to visualize and motivate why certain work needs to get done now and specifically by them. The bucket exercise also helps managers discover the work that needs to be delegated first. Here’s how you run it: Ask the manager (or who ever you are running the exercise with)…

  • Agile,  Interviewing

    Questions I ask in interviews – How do you enter new teams?

    Coaches at Spotify are expected to help squads who need help. Sometimes we stay with a squad for a year and sometimes we only stay for a few months. Some reasons to this include organisational changes, that squads split, and new priorities, etc. But how you as a coach enter a teams greatly impacts your effectiveness, the speed of which you’ll gain context, the amount of relationships and strengths of those.  In short if affects the impact you can have on a team. Because it has such an impact, if you’re interviewing with me for an agile coach, product owner, or manager role I might explore how you enter systems…

  • Agile,  Leadership

    No, Agile Coaching Is Not Cat Herding

    Agile coaches and leaders in agile organisations sometimes refer to parts of their job as herding cats. While said with a smile it has a negative connotation. I’ve done this in the past myself and I think it’s important that we stop talking about our jobs, and people and teams this way for several reasons: Talking about cat herding hides the real problems at hand. What exactly is the team doing that makes them appear as cats? And what should the team improve in order to not be a bunch of cats? It’s disrespectful and as a coach or leader you are likely loose influence. Sure, cats are smart, independant, and resourceful, but what coaches/leaders…

  • Agile

    Measure Your Lead Time And Cycle Time

    When you measure and analyse lead time[1] and cycle time you learn how value flows through your system. You also discover improvements you can make to deliver value faster. Unfortunately most teams do not measure lead time and cycle time which is a lost opportunity. Here’s an example of how a data center team I worked with reduced their cycle time from 32 days to 5 days, and how it started with us measuring it. Physical board + manual excel ftw We visualised our work on a physical board we and tracked our metrics manually because in different ways the tools that were available to us (jira, trello, leankit kanban) did…

  • Feedback,  Leadership

    Feedback workshop facilitation guide

    For the past two years I’ve been facilitating and evolving a hands-on feedback workshop for existing teams that I have run with support teams, dev teams, and lead teams with positive results. I’m now sharing it in the hopes that it helps bring people and teams closer together, and improves the collaboration, all across the world*. Feel free to use it as it is, or change it as you see fit. Also please share your experiences with it! 🙂 * With that said, I don’t think it’s wise to run this workshop if you do not have adequate/significant experience from feedback, self awareness increasing activities such as Johari Window, and facilitation.

  • Agile

    Here’s how you can help teams improve their planning meetings

    About a year ago I worked with a team that wanted to improve their planning meetings. As I observed this team, I noticed that they used their planning meeting for 5 other things. Technical discussions and designing solutions – about features or requirements not a part of the coming Sprint’s backlog. Grooming the backlog – preparing the backlog for the future. Walking the board – progress review and status updates on stories and milestones. Discussing ways to improve e.g. team work, process, etc – reviews of how the team works, their process, and collaboration. Off-topic requests for help – team members asking each other for help with work and features unrelated to…

  • Agile,  Facilitation

    Experiential book clubs help people grow, and they’re fun too! :)

    In this blog post I go through the differences between conceptual and experiential book clubs. I also share some tips if you’d like to organise an experiential book club for yourself. A few years ago I coached a team that was making a huge effort to reduce their technical debt. I offered to organise a book club around the book Clean code but I was faced with some skepticism. Several team members had participated in book clubs in the past but those had not been valuable. I explained that this book club probably would be different from previous ones they’d attended because this one was going to be experiential. I…

  • Agile,  Interviewing,  Product ownership

    Questions I ask in Interviews – How do you prioritise your backlog when there’s too much to do?

    Subjective models are charming but hinders clear thinking Subjective prioritisation models are common and easy to understand due to their quadrant nature. In addition they do not require you to motivate your conclusions which  makes them charming to many, but unfortunately this is also what’s inherently flawed with them. If you’re coaching a team e.g org leads team or dev team that uses any form of subjective prioritisation model e.g. MSCW, Risk/Value, Urgency/Importance you can help them make a greater impact by introducing them to objective prioritisation models. Objective models encourages conversations and creates alignment Objective prioritisation models e.g. Kano, CoD, WSJF help members of organisations understand why decisions are…

  • Feedback,  Leadership

    What to think about when it comes to feedback

    While Spotify, contrary to popular belief is very hierarchical (6 layers from CEO to developer), it is also true that we value peer feedback and self management for each of these layers. I’ve written a post about why peer feedback is important, here’s a link to it if you want to read it. In one of the feedback workshops I facilitate, participants go through “what to think about when considering to offer someone feedback”. The following 7 points are repeatedly mentioned and I’ve been using them as my own personal pointers with success. I’m sharing them with a wider audience in the hopes that they bring more people value. 1 – Your feedback must be necessary. The feedback you are about…

  • Feedback,  Leadership,  Organisation

    The importance of peer feedback in self managing organisations

    Self managing organisations distribute leadership and decision making. The more successful it is (i.e. the more effectively people manage themselves and make decisions) the faster the organisation is. If you’re trying to grow or sustain a self managing organisation you need effective peer feedback loops. Organisations that lack peer feedback loops usually starts exhibiting some or several of the following bad smells: relationships are deteriorating (the fewer and weaker relationships you have, the harder it is to get help and thereby accomplish things) growth has stalled (of people, the org, and the product)  sub groups are forming (us and them mentality, conflict, misalignment) hierarchy is amplified (bottlenecks are introduced in the organisation) lead and cycle times are increasing (the teams…

  • Agile,  Leadership,  Organisation

    One-on-one tips

    In my tribe (BITS IT) we are currently experimenting with distributing leadership and amplifying self management. We are iterating on Spotifys organisational model because it is creating tension for us. I’m going to share more about this experiment later this year. An important part in amplifying self management is to change how we conduct 1:1s. Just before we started our experiment we read Esther Derbys article about conducting 1:1s with self organising teams and we then had a conversation about how we should conduct 1:1s. I was asked to share some 1:1 tips and guidelines for people who are new to them, and I thought I’d share them here too. I hope they bring value to you! Stay…

  • Agile,  Interviewing

    Questions I ask in interviews – Give me an example of how you’ve helped someone grow

    Every now and then people behave in a way that negatively impacts their environment. Sometimes that’s because they lack a diverse toolbox, and sometimes they’re just repeating a behaviour that was helpful in the past. Whenever someone gets in their own way, we (agile coaches) fill an important role – to help people learn and grow. When I interview agile coach candidates I explore their experience in helping people learn and grow. “Give me an example of how you’ve helped someone grow” This question helps me understand: If the candidate adjusts her style when she works with different people What her default style is How many people she has worked with What tools she uses, and if…

  • Leadership,  Organisation

    Surface silent disagreements

    If you’ve ever worked in a team that makes lots of decisions but that struggles with making progress on those decisions, here’s a technique you can use to understand if your team is aligned on decisions or if people are disagreeing in silence. To avoid confusion and potential conflict it’s good to get your teams consent before trying this technique out. Build surfacing silent disagreements into your decision making process[1] Whenever your team has made a decision ask someone to repeat the decision then make the following three statements, one at a time, and ask the team to answer yes or no depending on if they agree or disagree with each statement. Three statements to surface disagreement I agree with this decision. I feel that…

  • Agile,  Interviewing

    Questions I ask in interviews – Doing a good job

    Many developers I have worked with think they are doing a good job as long as they fix many bugs and complete many features. As time passes and aforesaid developers have partaken in both failed and successful projects they realise that they should look at the impact they make to understand if they are doing a good job or not. While this might sound obvious for developers, what should agile coaches do to know if they’re doing a good job? Can you measure if an agile coach is doing a good job? Yes of course! And incidentally this is something I might ask you in an interview. “How do you know if you’re doing a good job as an Agile…

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