11 October 2016

Agile Coach Retreat 2016 - Fall Edition

It happened on a Saturday morning at 8:30, in Financial district of Toronto on the first day of October. It was nice to see new faces and the old mates. It was a rejuvenation of the old habits and learning new techniques on coaching. At the core, as always, it lived the same great spirit of community, to help each other and to grow together. I can't imagine that I grow this much since the time I attended the first Agile Coach Retreat. I am astonished how many new faces showed up.

Early Morning - Ready for Agile Coach Retreat
The format of this coach retreat was different, the organizers (one of them being me) learned from the past. In the morning, a session has been held by Don Gray talking about container based analysis. It was a very powerful approach looking at a topic from different angles, the relationships between them, their correlations, and most importantly how you can use it to pinpoint the main problem for the person you are coaching and helping them realize it.

Don Gray - Teaching From Back of The Room
In the above picture, you can see Don Gray introducing the technique and helping with different groups on their approach (This is the presentation from Don Gray). We have dispersed three times into smaller teams to create the model, discuss the differences and come up with the relations in it.

Discussion Panel

Discussion at the same time
In the two pictures above, you can see people are discussing in pairs or triads on the problem space and trying to come up with a container-based model and have a better understanding of the situation.

6 October 2016

Writing Better User Stories!

Writing a user story is easy. However, a great user story is hard to come by. It is an art to have one! Introducing the values and specifications of a great user story to teams and individuals, I put together a session called "Better User Stories". I am sharing the presentation I used. I divided the techniques and skills into three sections, "Better User Stories", "Much Better User Stories" and "Much Much Better User Stories". I hope you find it helpful either for yourself or for the people you are working with.

If you ask me to describe a user story I would summarize it as "Is about locking a shared understanding of smallest deliverable value possible"

Also, note that this is the start of the conversation for writing better user stories. Similar to user stories, which are for the understanding and embracing collaboration around value creation.

It's all about the conversation!

Did you know that user story is a term in XP and Scrum calls it Product Backlog Item or PBI for short?

3 October 2016

What is your Agile journey? Where does it take you? This is mine, kind of!

I began learning about Agile when I was a developer. I was looking to find better ways of collaboration with the business and my team members. There was a point in time that I figured out I can't deliver great code on my own; I need to help others to do great things from coding to analysis and so forth. I tried some ideas, some worked, few didn't. Later on, I got introduced to Scrum framework. Scrum seemed easy and straightforward at the beginning. The more I read about and got myself into, I figured out it is deliberate to be silent about many issues. The rationale is that if you stick to the values of Scrum, you can figure out what to do in a situation by situation basis (it can be very hard though).

I then started helping teams to adopt Scrum and then at the organisation level. The more I got myself into these kinds of challenges, I noticed that I need to educate myself more and become more knowledgeable; so that I can more efficiently help other people. I have attended several pieces of training listed as Certified Scrum Master, Kanban, ICAgile Certified Professional, Coaching Agile Teams, Certified Disciplined Agilist, ICAgile Facilitation For Agile Teams, Certified LeSS practitioner & Lean Change Agent. I have also been to many community events such as coach retreats, coach camps, agile meetups and so on. On the side, I was reading many books and maintain a blog to share my learning with the community as well. Still, I am learning and try to implement unique techniques and skills to specific challenges. (You can take a look here for a list of books/blogs/articles/activities I enjoyed and favourited.)

I have helped one Telecommunication company to embrace Scrum. I helped their leaders to shift their mindset from faster delivery to a more effective and frequent delivery standpoint. On another engagement, I am helping a big financial institution with their Agile initiatives. I have helped several teams to adopt the Scrum framework. The adoption was helpful in surfacing up the fundamental issues that they have in order for the teams to be more effective. Thus leading to initiatives on how to effectively change the organization.

Although I have touch points with different concepts of Agile here and there before Scrum. I feel that Scrum was the official starting point of my Agile journey. It won't be the last point of my journey for sue, but I have the feeling that within this journey constantly I am going to refer back to Scrum and learn more and more about it.

28 September 2016

LeSS of an Introduction, More of an Implementation!

I was so touched by the LeSS framework that I had to implement it. The perfect opportunity presented itself, a big team (or shall I say a group of teams) that were working toward the same product.

I'm sharing with you a presentation I prepared to move a team from a ScrumFall into more of a LeSS framework. Prior to this presentation, you could think that many conversations took place, many questions got asked and many thoughts put into it.

It is not easy to work with LeSS, as similar to Scrum, it leaves many of the questions unanswered deliberately to leave it to you.

The link to the presentation can be found here.

If you like to read more about starting point of my journey with LeSS, you can find it here. You can also find my profile on LeSS website here.

12 September 2016

A Great Coach is a Lazy, Curious & an Often One - Notes on Michael Bungay Stanier's Talk

I had the pleasure to meet one of the greatest coaches in the world, Michael Bungay Stanier. As the second greatest coach in the world, as per introduction & here, he used some spectacular techniques in facilitating the session with at least 200 people. I am sharing some of them here with you.

First of all, you wouldn't find any presentation for his talk. There were only 6 or 7 titles written on a chart paper.

At the beginning of the sessions, he asked everyone to stand up and greet another person that they don't know. Then he asked us to answer this question talking: "What cross roads are you at?". At the end of the 5 minutes, he asked us to repeat our names once again. We have repeated this exercise after a while with a different person and question: "Talk about your high points in the last week", on your foot!

Then he asked us to give a number from 1 to 7 for the following questions (7 being the highest). We didn't share the answers but just to have an idea of where we are standing. The questions were as follow:
  • How much engaged and active you are going to be in this session?
  • How much risk are you taking with me (Michael)?
  • How much effort are you going to put in to know other people?
This helped me to align my thoughts with my goals in the session. It will be a great tool to use in the start of a meeting / session you are facilitating. 

Then he talked about the bad, good and great work, based on his book. He used the following questions to engage the audience in checking the process: "Let me do a quick check, doesn't anyone know what I am talking about?". 

One of the definitions of the great work that I really liked was "more impact, more meaning". You can start your conversation with just this and then get into details of how a great work might look like. 

Some of the cool learnings from the session are the followings: 
  • Advice Monster: This is the reverse of Active Listening 
  • Advice Giving Maniacs: You can tell what that is, this isn't something a good coach would do.
  • The first thing that shows up is not the real challenge most of the time.
  • The first answer they are giving is usually not the best answer. 
  • Coaching is to be lazy, curious and often!
Great Resources:
  • You can listen to Michael talking about the last statement here.
  • A great article in Globe and Mail summarizing the "coaching habit" from Michael.

2 September 2016

What and Why You Ask Is Very Important!

I was shouting "do not give out the solution"! The worst part was that I shouted right at the beginning of the meeting. I felt like I was derailing the meeting even before it even started and I wasn't very happy about it. Before getting into what happened consequently to make me do this, let me tell you the whole story.

In a meeting that I was part of, the facilitator was asking participants to make a fan. It wasn't a norm for people to make fans while in meetings at an IT firm1. Most people looked confused, they were just looking at each other and no single sign of creating fans was on the horizon. At that moment, one of the participants took the initiative and started to guide the others on how to make a fan. Let's call him Strive. Strive was telling people in detail what they need to do; That they are going to pick their favorite color paper, any color that they want, fold the papers, glue them together and then glue a piece of stick to them; and the result would be a fan.

Don't we all like being told what to do? And in detail? This was when I felt the urge to say something. I raised my voice to stop Strive on providing one of the possible solutions. Then I brought out my cell phone and loudly said to myself: “I don’t know how to make a fan… but I am going to search how to make one.” This was followed by one of the participants asking if they are allowed to use their phones. The answer was yes. The crowd then became busy, everyone with his/her own style of coming up with a fan. Fifteen minutes later, everyone made a fan. I think it’s important to mention that not even two of them were the same. One person used staples instead of glue to make fans2. Another one didn't fold the papers at all. One person decorated her fan with drawings, another one used a prototype on a plain paper to test his skills and the outcome before committing to creating the fan.

The followings are some of the fans created by the individuals.

Let's think what would have happened if Strive continued leading the participants on. People in the room probably would have followed his instructions or most of them at least. I predict that most of the fans would have looked similar to each other as a result of following same steps. What about taking ownership and being proud of what you’ve created? Would you think that they could have been proud of what they have built? Proud of the thought and craftsmanship they put in? Would you ponder if there is any pride following the instructions blindly?

29 August 2016

How To Coach The Uncoachable?

Have you ever encountered situations in which you've been asked to coach people whom are not coachable? What would you do in those situations? What are the options that you might have? There are not too many options.

Courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/crdot/7827384514/

There are these actions you might take into consideration:

  • Just Give up, ignore the un-coachable. This is the simplest thing you can do. However, there are two ways of doing it:
    • To not tell the coachee
      • This is an option if you don't find your interaction and the outcome of that coaching exercise valuable at all. You will find that even having this conversation is a waste and no outcome will be realized. I highly suggest to avoid this option.
    • To have a conversation with the coachee 
      • This could simply opens up the coaching conversation. It might help you with the situation and awarness for the coachee. Your client then might be more open to be talked to and receive feedaback. You can leverage the conversation you are having and build on top of that. Hopefully in some days later you can have the coaching arc conversation with him/her.
  • Talk to him/her
    • To have a chat with him/her and let him/her know about the coaching arc. It will open up the conversation about where you are standing and what both of you need from each other. You might come to a conclusion other than a coaching agreement. You might end up with teaching opportunities or a mentoring one.
  • Talk to his/her boss
    • If you've been asked to have a coaching conversation with a person, there must have been a reason for that. If it hadn't come from him/herself, it should have been come from someone higher than him/her. You can use that opportunity to further investigate the situation. May be it is not the coachee that you need to coach, may be it is the boss, or may be it is both of them. 
  • Find out Why
    • Find out why you have been asked to coach the coachee. Then you have to figure out if that is the valid concern for the coachee and have a conversation with him/her or his/her boss. Then, you truly can unlease your coaching potential. 
  • Be Influential
    • You can influence the coachee by understanding him/her and coming up with innovatve ways of influencing that person. There are lots you can do here, you can show geniue interest in what the person is doing. You can give him/her some tips and see if it gets caught by him/her.