My reflections on a transformation program at one of Australia’s largest firms...
It’s October 2019 and I have just wrapped up a year-long contract with a large firm undergoing a major transformation to Agile / New Ways of Working. As I move on to a new coaching engagement and look back over the last year I didn’t want to lose sight of my key reflections. These reflections were primarily to serve as a reminder to myself but also in the spirit of sharing within the global agile community, in the hope that another coach or delivery manager would perhaps pick up a few pointers that may prove beneficial to them. As Peter Drucker said ‘follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action’.
In no way are these reflections meant to be the voice of any organisation I am working /have worked for nor the client I served; these are only personal reflections, which I have narrowed down to 12 bullet points.
(Environment: I was placed as a Group / Program Agile Coach facilitating the transformation to Agile / New Ways of Working across 20 +teams.)
Respect your client: I find that there are some (albeit very few) Agile Coaches who engage clients from a ‘position of authority’ particularly on what ‘good’ looks like. Such coaches presume the client doesn’t know what’s best for them and attempt to force clients into doing things differently or in a certain way. For example, I have often heard statements such as ‘if you’re not answering the 3 questions in a stand up its not agile’ or ‘if you go over 15 minutes it’s not a stand up’. Relax! Some of the people we are working with have been in these roles for 30 + years and are highly skilled individuals. While practices and process are important shift your focus to mindset and the core agile principles. Leaning towards the 'heart of agile' is a more optimal starting point. A coaches starting position aka the blank baseline page should be a page of humility.
Rolling your sleeves up: I call this phrase a sacrilege because I recall using the phrase ‘rolling up your sleeves’ at an Agile Coach camp breakout and was shot down immediately. I come from a delivery background. Needless to say if I am required to help out the teams in any capacity – I would. I’m not alluding to writing code or running test cases. If it’s in the best interest of the team for me to facilitate a workshop, orchestrate conversations, architect gatherings, setup ceremonies for an overwhelmed Product Owner or guide technical conversations – I’m ok with it. I’m happy to be in the trenches, share war stories and help where I’m able to.
Coaching stewardship: I had a predecessor coach working in my role before I began. Rather than judge what that coach did or did not accomplish, I consider any coaching engagement a role in stewardship. One coach ploughs the field, the other plants the seeds, the next waters, the next sees plants and fruition and the next reaps the harvest. Coaching is an ongoing long-term engagement. I am very grateful to the coaches before me who ploughed through the hard conversations to lay the foundations for myself to come in and see the benefits. Thank you.
Bring the Energy! You need to bring energy into a transformation. A few days into my engagement I remembered being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the transformation. I then recall having a candid conversation with a coach who said "....transformation does not work unless you bring energy with you. Energy and passion is something you can control and take with you into meetings and workshops. Without energy there is no transformation". I recall Jack Welch once saying that one of the key hiring traits he looked for in a new hire is the energy and passion he / she brings to the table.
Create your own journey: don’t prescribe medication to the client. Sit down with the leadership team (LT) and co-create a transformation plan. Focusing on the Pillars of Business Agility I built a backlog of what they said was most important to them. The backlog began to fill up with epics such as launching Scrum teams, building up Product Owner Capabilities, building Scrum Master Capabilities, Impediment Escalations and Maturity Assessments. I now had a backlog of work which I had prioritised and began pulling into my WIP.
Enterprise Coach vs. Program Coach vs. Team Coach - ‘call us bananas for all I care’! Don’t get hung up on titles. Irrespective of where you think you should work be humble enough to help wherever you can. Newly formed Scrum teams require hands-on coaching. It’s extremely rewarding to sit with teams, train them in New Ways of Working and observe their behaviours.
Value Stream Mapping – bringing waste to the forefront: I am an almost obsessive fan of Lean, XP and DevOps. Finding ‘waste’ in the system and addressing it often relieves a lot of undue pressure on the system. In every engagement I have been in – energy, digital, education, Telco, etc. I have always embraced running a Value Stream Mapping workshop. This involved working with teams to write up the entire flow of work from concept to cash followed by constraint mapping and timeline analysis. This workshop results in the attendees identifying the ‘7 wastes’ of the value delivering system. Once identified they can also be addressed in the form of a Continuous Improvement backlog.
The power of a one-on-one: There isn’t a more significant tool in the ‘toolkit’ of an Agile Coach as that of our love for Coffee. Coffee and conversations are the secret tool to unlocking relationships, opening up conversations, building up individuals and the beginning of long lasting friendships. There is more coaching over coffee than any 5 day training course anyone can attend. God bless the cafés around us for great thing have happened in these hallowed halls.
Champions: I recently watched a youtube clip on the 6 sources of influence. This snippet crystallised my understanding that change is less likely to happen without champions. Moving into an Agile Coaching engagement you need to very quickly identify the champions who will be your supporters and evangelists. There are people who believe in what you are saying, they are excited by it and that excitement resonates. They are also the ones who will continue to take forward that message long after you have rolled off the account.
The ‘aha’ moment: It sometimes feels that you are repeating the same message over and over again without much benefit. Can I encourage coaches out there? Wait for the ‘aha’ moment. Wait for that switch because it is on the verge of being turned on. When the switch went on in my engagement my biggest problem became managing the sheer volume of work to be done as a result of the excitement that followed through. Managing my WIP became the next battleground! Persistence led to a senior manager once calling out at an all-hands that ‘agile is a team sport, don’t try to do it on your own’.
Focus on the System: unless you help at the Portfolio-level you won’t be moving the big rocks! Focusing on the wider system and in particular the portfolio i.e. where the work flows into the ‘engine’ helps refine what’s been fondly called out as ‘lumpy fuel’ entering the ‘engine’. Work needs to be incepted effectively. Facilitating large scale inceptions with over 100+ people in attendance (similar to PI Planning) has brought everyone across the Program onto the same page. Establishing OKR s against the big rocks helps provide razor sharp focus on what needs immediate attention.
Have Fun! Celebrate! Clap! Hugs! Get to know the people around you. Have fun, share jokes and don’t take things ‘too seriously’. Over this engagement we have shared so much coffee, yum cha, craft beer, whiskey, bring your kid to work days and long walks. I have built friendships and shared many laughs.
Thank you for reading!