The Agile Coach's Guide To The Galaxy

  • Feedback,  Personal Development

    The Four Intentions Feedback Model

    Two years ago I worked with a team that struggled with delivering feedback to each other. Team members would try to express something to either raise each others performance levels or to improve working relationships, but somehow something would always seem to go wrong and they ended up triggering each other. This damaged their productivity and morale to an extent that several people left the team. The remaining team members went through feedback training and coaching, and we looked at how the intentions behind feedback are the foundation for constructing constructive feedback. For example, feedback about performance and feedback about working relationships sound very different but the members of this…

  • Organization,  Systems Coaching

    First Correct The Environment, Then Coach The Teams

    Some organisations attempt to increase their teams performance by injecting agile coaches or scrum masters into their teams. At the same time the environment is not conducive to coaching which means that coaching will not have any significant effect until the environment has been adjusted. To create an environment that enables autonomy and evokes high performance the following four conditions are necessary: Teams need a (one) compelling mission. Teams need the necessary skill set to deliver value (to customers or internal stakeholders) or at least a good enough match and time to learn more. Teams need to feedback from the customers and organisation. Teams need focus both in terms of…

  • Agile,  Organization

    What we learned from removing all chapter leads (managers) in the IT tribe at Spotify

    Two years ago the Internal IT tribe @ Spotify was greatly understaffed but got approval to scale from 25 to 75 employees. As we started scaling we recognised that Spotifys organisational model added too many formal leadership roles for our taste and we wanted to find an organisational model that allowed us to scale without adding more formal leadership roles. During this time the existance of chapter leads was also being challenged in our tribe by our squad members. To solve both these problems we conducted an experiment where we distributed leadership responsibilities and we removed all the managers (chapter leads). I did a lightening talk about our experiment at Agila…

  • 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 organization?” 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 subdivide your team. One alternative to asking powerful questions is making powerful observations and in this blog post I share three different examples of how to make and visualize powerful observations. Making powerful observations helps teams see themselves which makes…

  • Personal Development

    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)…

  • 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,  Systems Coaching

    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…

  • Facilitation,  Feedback,  Team Building

    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,  Team Building

    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. teamwork, 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 the…

  • Personal Development,  Team Building

    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 Management

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

    Subjective models are charming but hinder clear thinking but are common and easy to understand due to their quadrant nature. In addit,ion 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 prioritization model e.g. MSCW, Risk/Value, Urgency/Importance you can help them make a greater impact by introducing them to objective prioritization models. Objective models encourage conversations and creates alignment Objective prioritization models e.g. Kano, CoD, WSJF help members of organizations understand why decisions are made, and what’s…

  • Feedback,  Personal Development

    7 Things To Think About When It Comes To Feedback

    When I worked as an Agile Coach at Spotify, people were surprised to learn that, contrary to popular belief, Spotify was in fact very hierarchical (6 layers from CEO to developer). It was also true that we valued peer feedback and self-management within each of these layers. Effective feedback and feedback training were crucial factors in making sure we stayed lean despite the hierarchy that had accumulated over the years. In one of the feedback workshops I facilitate, participants are asked to discuss “things to think about when considering giving feedback to someone”. The following 7 points are the ones that come up most frequently in these discussions. I’ve long…

  • Leadership

    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 organizational 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 organizing 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 away from…

  • 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…