For nearly two years I have been helping my client do agile rather than do agile myself. I have been a coach helping teams adopt Scrum, Theory of Constraints, Specification by Example and other stuff. Although its my first attempt at “helping others do it” rather than “doing it”, I have been approaching management as a coach for almost a decade. Thankfully I am working with other experienced coaches who have been helping me learn the ropes.
For the past few months, the agile coaching team have been preparing for the day when the client will achieve sustainable agile. Sustainable agile means they will be self sufficient rather than needing to rely on external agile coaches. Thankfully, our team leader, Tony Grout, has some experience in this space and we are building “self-service” “first-aid” material for the organisation. But it’s not enough. We need the organisation to take on the yoke of coaching.
For the past few weeks I have been working with dev and test managers to prepare the way for a “Management Skills Matrix”. In technical parlance, preparing the management fitness landscape to make it less hostile to the “skills matrix” meme. (Note, So far all the managers love the idea). The management skills matrix would be a public skills matrix posted on the wall in one of the coffee areas…
There is one big difference between the management matrix and team matrix. At skill level 3, the manager feels confident enough to coach a team in the skill. Now our target is to get at least three managers in every location who can coach each skill. As we achieve that goal, I can then retire from coaching for each skill until the organisation is self-sufficient.
This was the point that I realised that I was an organisational dysfunction.
Some of the more experienced coaches had suggested I should work for the team doing what was right, rather than work for management. It felt right because management did not have a deep understanding of agile but I had a stronger feeling that I should be aligned with management who represented the goals of the organisation. The management skills matrix helped me realise that I should not work with the team at all. Instead I should work coaching the leadership of the organisation so that THE LEADERS COULD COACH THE TEAMS. That way, there would be no misalignment. Management would know why they were doing each agile practice. There would be no disconnect between the teams and management. By training the teams, I am perpetuating a disconnect between the teams and their management… I am perpetuating an organisational dysfunction.
But training every manager in every skill is impossible. Some managers just do not want to know about the intricate details of Agile. Thats fine, training every manager in every skill is the wrong goal. The goals is to ensure that each skill can be coached by at least 3 managers. (On a process note, I’m using 3 as an illustration. The final answer might be 1,2,3,4,5 or who knows depending on context).
I should treat coaching skills in the same way I manage staff liquidity. When a coaching request comes in I should ask the managers who wants to take it on and get them to do pair coaching with me. Currently the way I work as a coach perpetuates me as the key man dependency.
It answers that age old question? Who should go Agile first? The team or the leadership?
GIVEN that management want Agile
WHEN they hire a coach
THEN the coach should start with management.
So now I have to change the way I work so that I’m no longer a dysfunction. For those of you who know me, you know how hard that will be. ;-)