Hiring an Agile Coach

Hiring an Agile Coach

If you’re a leader of product development and/or delivery, you would’ve found self hunting for an Agile Coach at some point of time. Hiring an Agile Coach to help your product development teams becomes a natural step in mid to large size organizations, after you’ve trained your people and they’ve been breaking their head for sometime – trying to solve the How to Become Agile puzzle on their own.

I can share a list of 20 things to look for when hiring an Agile Coach, however, I’ll be generous and I’ll only share with you my top two.

Why only two?, you ask. Well, Agile Coaches can come from a wide variety of backgrounds and can have strengths in wide ranging aspects. So there isn’t a single checklist on which you can measure each of the Agile Coach candidate.

Here are my top two areas that I look for when hiring an Agile Coach,

First point to look for in an Agile Coach (when looking for a process coach** – the most common one) is if they’ve helped build high performing teams as a Scrum Master (when following Scrum) – replace Scrum Master with a XP / Kanban /…. practitioner based on the framework you follow. This aspect works and is very common-sense type, however it’s also most frequently ignored, I’ll tell you why, how and in which cases – later.

Coming back to the point. If someone has worked in the trenches before getting into coaching they can very well foresee many systemic / deep rooted challenges within the team and the organizations while looking at the symptoms. Let’s be practical – in a product based organization, there isn’t much time allowed for the development team to do a root-cause analysis of each impediment or issue they come across. Here you can benefit from having an Agile Coach who has past experience working as Scrum Master and can help the team pick, which are high impact issues worth spending time on and resolving. Just to be clear – I’m not saying that your teams should always do what the Agile Coach says or completely transfer this responsibility to her, as sometimes she would be wrong as well – due to having little context of your situation and challenges than your teams. Your experienced Agile Coach would also be able to share real life stories from his past experiences when they see your teams struggling at the Sprint planning, or splitting PBIs or not getting much value from retrospectives, or struggling to order the product backlog, etc.

Without having real experience as a Scrum Master, your agile coach could possibly be coaching the organization in to a completely incorrect direction. If she doesn’t have real experience of facing a wide array of challenges such as helping teams transition from command-and-control to self-organization, from silos to collaborative work, from top-down to shared ownership, from single function expert groups to cross-functional teams, of shielding the team from traditional mindsets and people in power, of battling with internal politics and resistance, of removing impediments, of influencing without having authority, of serving the team and keeping the team ahead of their own interest, etc…. the coach would only play based on what they’ve read and heard from others – significantly limiting team’s potential to produce great results.

Once in a while, I came across Product Owners who took interest in mastering Scrum and were really interested in helping the teams get better at implementing Scrum. They cared for the team performance. I guess such Product Owners can also make effective Agile Coaches.

Second aspect to look for in an Agile Coach (assuming the team is developing software products and using Scrum) is if they’ve ever worked on a Scrum Team where the PO and the dev team were in one building and collaborating on daily basis. Without having experienced this is like talking about Switzerland without having visited it. While reviewing candidates who worked particularly in service based (vendor) organizations lacked this knowledge. They were only experienced working with the vendor team at offshore, but didn’t have real experience working with a Scrum Team. Their experience and knowledge is limited to 1/3rd of the actual Scrum Master responsibility as listed in the Scrum Guide. These candidates significantly lacked in skills to influence any significant change with respect to how the Product Owner (usually from the client organization) worked as well as how the organization (client organization) transformed.

These candidates almost always oblivious to the actual organizational level challenges due to which the transformation initiatives were getting failed or stalled. What they knew was, my project ended and I was moved by my employer to another project. This person simply is a facilitator of the Scrum meetings (when implementing Scrum), not much more than that – in most cases.

Both of these points usually filter out all types of less than deserving Agile Coach candidates.

Now, what else I would look for in the Agile Coach candidate?

  • Experience working with leadership team,
  • Experience with organization design,
  • Experience Facilitating-leading change initiatives, (not the top-down change initiatives)
  • Knowledge of more than couple of Agile frameworks / techniques, etc…..

that list is long and your list should be specific to your situation.

What is your experience with hiring Agile Coaches for your product development teams?

Does your Scrum Master Inspect and Adapt?

Does your Scrum Master Inspect and Adapt?

The empirical approach to product development doesn't have to be limited to the fine tuning the product direction, it's equally powerful when applied to the process of developing the product.

Sprint Retrospective meeting provides an in-built approach for the Scrum Teams to inspect and adapt. I observe in most organizations (almost 9 out of 10 times), everyone in organization is looking up to the development team to retrospect and improve their process. Most of the time the implicit desire is for the development team to deliver more features in less time.

What is almost always overlooked is if the Scrum Master is performing her job effectively in helping the Scrum Team become effective, creative and flexible - what the Scrum Team is designed to be.

Usually because the Scrum Master is the only most-Scrum-educated person available. No one (dares/) holds her responsible for improving at her own job, at what is she supposed to do.

Why most of the Scrum retrospective meetings neglect to inspect how the Scrum Master performed during the Sprint?

One common oversight is that Scrum Master by default sends the meeting invites and takes up the role of the facilitator during the Sprint Retrospective meeting. The facilitator by definition doesn't participate / contribute to the conversations as her focus is to hold the space and create structure for the participants to contribute effectively, resulting in the Scrum Master to usually escape the periphery of the retrospection.

Scrum Guide calls out the Scrum Master's service as;

Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed - Scrum Guide

One good approach to worth giving a try is, to rotate the facilitator and allow the Scrum Master to participate in the Sprint Retrospective meeting with the Scrum Team.

By rotating the facilitator, the Scrum Master also gets the chance to participate in the retrospective, reflect and share her own perspective and analysis of her performance. If she shielded the team well, if she was effective in helping the team to remove the impediments, if she did good in coaching the dev team, the product owner, as well as the organization, etc..

Does your team care and discuss if the Scrum Master performed her duties well during the sprint?

Becoming a real effective Scrum Master is tough journey. Those who are open to seek feedback and look for opportunities to continuously improve their own game, also stand chance to inspire their teams and leaders to improve.

What are your thoughts about the topic?

If you are Scrum Master, how do you ensure to inspect and adapt your own performance?

5 Key Lessons for Product Based Enterprises from Army

In September 2016 Indian special forces carried out surgical strikes at 7 terrorist launch pads across the line of control (LOC) in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK). This strike was in response to credible intelligence about a large gathering of terrorists along the LOC with the objective of crossing the border and targeting locations in India, and two terrorist attacks in India on the Indian armed forces that killed 18+ soldiers in last two weeks. Read more….

Surgical strikes require detailed and exhaustive planning. It needs to be carried out with absolute precision to achieve the objective of taking down targets with either no or minimal collateral damage.

In an ideal world, there shouldn’t be a need for such operations as everyone should aim to live peacefully and let others live peacefully. No terrorism, no surgical strikes. However the reality today is far from ideal.

There are many pearls of strategy from this surgical strike that corporations can learn and get better at launching major products in markets. Let’s focus on that aspect.

1. Sense and Respond rapidly to opportunities/market needs: The customer and market factors beyond your organization’s control may present opportunities outside of your regular operations/product features. Organizations that can quickly sense these opportunities and respond swiftly may find themselves gaining market and continued loyalty from customers. That’s agility. Organizations that are not capable of sensing such opportunities or acting upon these quickly may see themselves becoming irrelevant in the new market. Remember Kodak and Blackberry?

Tip from the real world: One serious flaw we observe with bureaucratic and large organizations is that smart people working in these organizations may already have observed new opportunities/needs, however, may feel unsafe to try out new ideas due to fear of failure and the consequences of failure on their job. Encouraging every employee to experiment and innovate may not work on its own, leaders must act in line with what they preach and also allow freedom for the employees to make choices safely.

2. Execute Flawlessly: It’s not luck or coincidence. Achieving excellence in Product development and product launch takes years of effort to build this capability. Being excellent at connecting with customers, understanding customer challenges, translating the vision into solutions, developing quality products rapidly, launching solutions to market early, promoting and selling the products through multiple channels and partners etc., all at the same time, can’t be a sheer coincidence every time.

The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat. Richard Marcinko.

To become agile, organizations should identify process and practices to continuously improve, enhance the products, optimize the organizational system, avoid short cuts, avoid local optimizing and strive for breakthrough innovations in products as well as processes.

Executing flawlessly is also a result of choosing your battles. If people in your organization are always busy, always fire-fighting, they have no time and motivation to experiment, strive for quality and focus on excellence. If your company offers 30 varieties of fruit jam, most likely your company does not have a single world-class variety of jam.

Tip from the real world: Check this: Tesla only sells 2 models of cars (3rd is in making) v/s GM who has 24+ models. Apple offers 3 models of laptops v/s HP which sells 24+ models. Google constantly identifies products that do not meet it’s benchmark performance and retires these products. Facebook keeps disrupting itself regularly to get better. Hope you get the point.

  • To be able to execute flawlessly, your organization must focus on few key offerings, and constantly up the game. At Agile For Growth, we are focused on offering Scrum Training and politely deny serving clients with other training requests. It allows us to focus on what we do well.

3. Involve Stakeholders Early: A visionary leader finds a common purpose and crafts an inclusive mission to bring all stakeholders together. Involving all stakeholders early avoids the chances of missing out on key participation and support from the stakeholders as well as helps avoid consequential resistance later. Let’s accept, it’s difficult to find harmony when trying to align multiple stakeholders particularly in large enterprises. However, that shouldn’t be an excuse from involving stakeholders early. In today’s market, stakeholders are all those involved in the success of your product that includes employees, vendors, partners, and customers. Have a strategy in place to engage all stakeholders contextually and at an appropriate time. Sooner the better, in most cases.

Immediately after the surgical strike, the Indian government briefed the key leaders of the opposition, called for an all-party meeting, informed the UN and other key countries. The India head of military also called up his counterpart in Pakistan and briefed him about the operation. A Press conference was planned and called for immediately. A plan was already in place to handle any retaliation.

Tip from the real world: Involving stakeholders early allows you to identify and address any resistance early. Having satisfied stakeholders offer you additional support in terms of introductions, referrals, testimonials, and free word of mouth publicity. Many new and breakthrough products today are co-created today with customers involved right from the inception of the product.

4. Build the Ecosystem: The product gains tremendous value when there is an eco-system around it which enhances its usage and benefits. Apple’s App store is one of the key examples that helped expensive iPhone take off against the established and low priced Nokia and Blackberry. Most product companies today offer APIs that allow developers to build third party applications and to enhance the value of their product.

Tip from Real World: At Agile For Growth, we offer Scrum training and Enterprise Agile Coaching. All clients engaging us for Scrum training workshop, get 10 additional value-adds and bonuses that allow the training participants to continue getting value even after the workshop. That gets them real world benefits from implementing Scrum concepts, techniques and tips. Beyond the 2-day workshop, we’ve designed a broader engagement and experience for our workshop participants. These bonuses significantly enhance the value our customers get from engaging us. These value-adds, almost payback for their training investment.

5. Build Trust First: India through it’s sensible and responsible behavior over the years built trust with allies and parties, which helped it gain support from many countries when deciding to carry out surgical strikes across the LOC. Don’t forget that you DO NEED strong support of stakeholders, partners, customers, and employees when taking big and risky bets. If your organization has worked for it and earned trust, getting this support becomes a relatively easier task.

Being adaptive, responsive, nimble – Agile, at the organization level is a choice that everyone in the organization needs to make and commit to. It’s a tedious journey that requires a fair share of taking tough decisions, disrupting the status-quo, being ready to fail, traveling uncharted territory and tapping into the collective intelligence of everyone involved.

What is your key takeaway from this episode? I’m interested in learning it!

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