Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Q: What is an Agile Transition Guide?

I was at the Dallas Tech Fest last week and was asked several times what an Agile Transition Guide was (it was a title on my name tag)... it's surprising to me how many people assume they know what an Agile Coach is, yet there is no good definition or professional organization (with a possible exception coming: Agile Coaching Institute).

So naturally the conversation went something like this:

Inquisitive person:  "Hi David, what's an Agile Transition Guide?  Is that like a coach?"

David:  "Hi, glad you asked.  What does a coach do in your experience?"

Inquisitive person: "They help people and teams improve their software practices."

David:  "Yes, I do that also."

Inquisitive person: "Oh, well then why don't you call yourself a coach?"

David:  "Great question:  Let's see...  well one of the foundational principles of coaching (ICF) is that the coached asks for and desires an interaction with the coach, there is no authority assigning the relationship, or the tasks of coaching.  So do you see why I don't call myself a coach?"

Inquisitive person: "Well no, not really.  That's just semantics.  So you're not a coach... OK, but what's is a guide?"

David:  "Have you ever been fishing with a guide, or been whitewater rafting with a guide, or been on a tour with a guide?  What do they do differently than a coach?  Did you get to choose your guide, or were they assigned to your group?"

Inquisitive person: "Oh, yeah.  I've been trout fishing with a guide, they were very helpful, we caught a lot of fish, and had more fun than going on our own.  They also had some great gear and lots of local knowledge of where to find the trout."

David:  "Well, there you have it... that's a guide - an expert, a person that has years of experience, has techniques to share and increase your JOY with a new experience."

Inquisitive person: "Yes, I'm starting to see that difference, but can't a coach do this also?"

David:  "No, not unless the coach is willing to switch to a different modality - to one of mentoring, teaching, consulting, or protecting.  Some times a guide must take over for the participant and keep the person/group within the bounds of safety - think about a whitewater river guide.  A coach - by strict interpretation of the ethics, is not allowed to protect the person from their own decisions (even if there are foreseen consequence of this action."

Richard FeynmanAnd now the conversation start to get very interesting, the Whys start to flow and we can go down the various paths to understanding.  See Richard Feynman's dialogue about "Why questions"

So, I'm not a Coach

I've been hired as a coach (largely because the organization didn't truly understand the label, role, and the ethics of coaching).  This relationship was typically dysfunctional from the standpoint of being a coach.  So I decide to study the role of coaching. I've done a few classes, seminars, personal one of one coach, read a lot and drawn some conclusions from my study - I'm not good a coaching within the environment and situation that Agile Coaches are hired. I've learned that regardless of the title that an organization uses (Agile Coach, Scrum Master, etc.) it doesn't mean coaching.  It intends the relationship to be vastly different.  Since I'm very techie, I appreciate using the correct words, and phrase for a concept.  (Paraphrasing Phil Karlton: In software there are two major challenges: cache invalidation and naming things.  Two Hard Things)

So to stop the confusing and the absurd use of the terms, I quit referring to my role and skills as coaching.  Then I needed a new term.  And having lots of friends that have been Outward Bound instructors and understanding their roles, the concept of a river guide appeals to me in this Agile transformational role.  Therefore I coin the term Agile Transformation Guide.  But many organization do not wish to transform their organization, but they do wish for some type of transition, perhaps from tradition development to a more agile or lean mindset.  So a transition guide is more generic, capable of the situational awareness of the desire of the organization.

See Also:

The Difference Between Coaching & Mentoring

Scrum Master vs Scrum Coach by Charles Bradley

Agile Coach -or- Transition Guide to Agility by David Koontz; the whitewater guide analogy to agile coaching.

Academic paper:  Coaching in an Agile Context by David Koontz

Interesting Twitter conversation about the nature of "coaching" with Agile42 group.



Monday, October 26, 2015

HBR:: Why Organizations Don't Learn

A nice article on HBR - "Why Organizations Don't Learn", by


  • Francesca Gino and 
  • Bradley Staats; take a look.
    They list these reasons:

    • Fear of failure
    • Fixed mindset
    • Over reliance on past performance
    • Attribution bias


    The authors then give some strategies for overcoming these reasons for the lack of learning.  Many of these will be familiar to the agile community.


    See Also:
    Pitfalls of Agile Transformations by Mary Poppendieck

    Tuesday, August 18, 2015

    Cultivating Collaboration via intense partnerships to solve problems.

    I presented this workshop at Agile Camp - Dallas, Oct 19th.


    DFW Scrum Meeting Aug. 18th 2015
    It’s said that two heads are better than one, in reference to problem solving. We will use Tangram puzzles to simulate this experience, and via structured debriefs of these exercises, discover the powerful behaviors of awesome collaboration, and the negative warning signs of poor collaboration. We will jump right into simulation exercises, come prepared to have FUN and learn by doing. 
     No lecture - if you want a lecture… go here: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=+collaboration+pair+programming+lectures

    Here are some of the resources and exercise if you wish to reproduce this workshop or want to dig further into the science behind collaboration.

    Presentation Cultivation Collaboration (PDF)  Spoiler Alert - don't look at the solutions!

    Friday, July 31, 2015

    Retromat:: A well planned Retro

    Retrospective at GameStop based upon Corinna Baldaug's Retromat.


    Retro process phases: Set the Stage, Gather Data, Generate Insight, Decide what to Do, Close the Retro

    REF: http://plans-for-retrospectives.com


    Set the Stage: give time to “arrive” and get into the right mood and focus upon the goal
    Gather Data: reflect upon what happened, create a shared pool of information
    Generate Insight: why did things happen this way? What patterns can we observe?
    Decide What to Do: Pick what to work on, plan concrete steps of action
    Close the Retro: reflect upon the retrospective, how could it improve? What shall we follow-up upon?


    Activities for this Retro:


    Quick Questions 
    In ONE word – what do you need from the retro?
    In ONE word – what is on your mind?
    In ONE word – what is you current mindset in regards to your project: are you a:
    Explorer – eager to dive in and research what worked
    Shopper – Positive, happy if 1 good thing come out
    Vacationer – Reluctant, but retros beat regular work
    Prisoner – Only attend because they make you


    The Four Ls
    Regarding the last iteration, individually for each of these 4 questions (one item per sticky) write:
    What I Loved
    What I Learned
    What I Lacked
    What I Longed for


    Perfection Game
    Everyone rates the last iteration on scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (perfect).
    Next – make suggestion to raise your rating toward a 10, rate that suggestion using remaining 10 – x points


    Circle of Influence & Concern
    On a chart of concentric circles… inner to outter circle;
    Team controls – direct action
    Team influences – persuasive action
    System – response action


    Sort insight from Perfection Game into circle of influence & concern;
    Write possible actions – annotate the item with actions
    Dot vote on which action to attempt

    The team created this info graphic of their Four Ls exercise using the Circle of Influence & Concern. Stepping back they realized - they are the master's of their domain.

    We Control our own Destiny

    Feedback Door – Smilies
    Happy, OK, Sad
    Mark your satisfaction with the retro session on the chart.



    Wednesday, July 29, 2015

    On my ToDo book shelf




    A wish list of books I'd like to read...


    Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations
    by Rich Karlgaard, Michael S. Malone

    "Throughout, Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone share insights and real-life examples gleaned from their careers as journalists, analysts, investors, and globetrotting entrepreneurs, meeting successful teams and team leaders to reveal some "new truths":

    The right team size is usually one fewer person than what managers think they need.
    The greatest question facing good teams is not how to succeed, but how to die.
    Good "chemistry" often makes for the least effective teams.
    Cognitive diversity yields the highest performance gains—but only if you understand what it is.
    How to find the "bliss point" in team intimacy—and become three times more productive.
    How to identify destructive team members before they do harm.
    Why small teams are 40 percent more likely to create a successful breakthrough than a solo genius is.
    Why groups of 7 (± 2), 150, and 1,500 are magic sizes for teams.


    Eye-opening, grounded, and essential, Team Genius is the next big idea to revolutionize business."


    Passionate Performance  by Lee J. Colan

    This quick read cuts through the clutter to offer practical strategies to engage the minds and heart of your employeees. Learn why this is such a powerful advantage for your organization. Read it and conquer your competition!






    Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World   by General Stanley McChrystal


    A NEW APPROACH FOR A NEW WORLD McChrystal and his colleagues discarded a century of conventional wisdom and remade the Task Force, in the midst of a grueling war, into something new: a network that combined extremely transparent communication with decentralized decision-making authority. The walls between silos were torn down. Leaders looked at the best practices of the smallest units and found ways to ex­tend them to thousands of people on three continents, using technology to establish a oneness that would have been impossible even a decade earlier. The Task Force became a “team of teams”—faster, flatter, more flex­ible—and beat back Al Qaeda.

    How could we measure Team Happiness?

    Do you believe that what you measure you will get?  If so you want to start to measure team happiness.  So what techniques do we have to measure something so ephemeral?


    The health care industry has studied measuring pain and have very good data on their ability to measure and administer pain drugs upon a subjective self report.  Maybe we could do the same in knowledge worker teams and work groups.

    Team Happiness Net Promoter Score sheet
    Here's a riff upon the classic Net Promoter Score for measuring team happiness.

     "How likely is it that you would recommend our team to a trusted friend that is looking for a job?"

    To calculate the NPS - the continuum is divided into 3 groups; the detractors (1 - 6), the passive (7 & 8), the promoters (9 & 10).  The passive are ignored - they do not promote your objective.  The NET promoter score is the percentage of people promoting your objective minus the percentage of people detracting from your objective.

         NPS = Promoter % - Detractor %  (valid range +100% to -100%)


    How does this objective of promoting your team as a recommendation for a friend seeking a job a proxy for team happiness?  I've not met many good people that would shaft a friend by recommending an unhappy team - have you?

    Note:  with small populations (like a scrum team) there is high variability based upon a few people's scoring,  another companion metric would be the percentage of people participating in the survey.  Did the whole team play - or do you have a core group that is the in-group?

    See Also:

    Visualizing Agility: Agile Metrics that Matter by Jay Packlick

    Monday, July 27, 2015

    Transparency - Two Way Visibility

    What does the value of Transparency really mean?
    Nextgov: How do you define transparency?
    Fung: My definition is quite a bit different from the conventional wisdom about transparency. A transparency system is designed to allow people to improve the quality of decisions they make in some way, shape or form, and it enables them to improve their decisions to reduce the risks they face or to protect their interests. Some of those decisions are about political accountability but some are in private life, like what food to buy or what doctor to go to.
    -- Archon Fung, professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government who studies government transparency.

    Does your company practice fair pay?  Here's what one worker brought to Google and made a difference in transparency at the search giant.
    Tell Your Co-Workers How Much You Make!  There's no law against it and it increases the chances you'll be paid fairly.

    Does the Agile Manifesto imply some form of organizational transparency? I believe so, yes.  Here's what Jeff Sutherland has to say about the topic, look for the Individual and Interaction section.  Agile Principles and Values by Jeff Sutherland on MSDN.

    Scrum's 5 core values list the concept of Openness.  Is this not very similar to Transparency?

    There are lots of synonyms - visibility, openness, observable, apparent, etc.

    Does this value of transparency imply that the information flows in both directions, up and down an organizational hierarchy, from line-workers to managers & directors, as well as from CEO to directors and wage earners also?


    See Also: