Finding fertile soil for coaching

There are hundreds of poorly written job offers for "Scrum Masters" or "Agile Coaches" out there - mostly because clients don't understand what they should be looking for. And who can blame them? Why would they need you, if they did?


It's not Cockaigne

I have talked with numerous "Scrum Masters" who require that a Scrum Master job ad be written properly to represent the role of a Scrum Master as based on the intention of the Agile Manifesto and healthy Scrum. They already screen the job interview for any hints that the organization may not be agile and disengage at the slightest hint that the company "doesn't get it".

In my personal opinion, these people are cherry picking. A very important part of being a Scrum Master is creating a healthy Scrum environment - to expect that it already exists means taking the easy route.

And since life isn't a bed of roses, even seemingly perfect environments have challenges.
I heard the personal stories of Scrum Masters who were sorely frustrated upon being confronted with un-Scrum-like elements in their organization and having to deal with people who interefered with team autonomy. Those stories make me wonder: "What did you expect?"

There will be challenges. There will be mindset discrepancies. There will be arguments. And that is part of the job.

Good descriptions can be bad jobs

There might be a huge discrepancy between written words and unspoken expectations.
Here are just some examples of hidden pitfalls:
  • "Guide the team in their self-organization" could mean "Track who does what, when and how long it takes"
  • "Establish agile ways of working" could mean "Enforce adherence to the 'Agile' Jira workflow"
  • "Help people adopt an agile mindset" could mean "Developers need to work faster and harder".
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Below lurk further dangers:
  • Your influence is limited to the team
  • Rigorous adherence to rules
  • You're expected to optimize for efficiency or utilization
  • The need for supervision and control
  • Pressure to meet quota
All of these are serious concerns, yet nothing to be afraid of - there are problems everywhere, so why should any specific company be any different?

A good basis

As agile coach, change is your job - you just need to be aware when you're fighting an uphill battle and are up alone versus an armada. In some cases, steering clear of a confrontation is better than running headlong into your demise. So, how do you know the difference?

It's about people

"People and Interactions over Processes and tools" - for none is this truer than for an agile coach. Take a note of how people behave in their interaction with others.

These character traits from members of the organization are hints that existing problems and challenges can be overcome:
  • Trust: Invite and extend trust to and from others. Build networks of trust.
  • Humility: Able to admit that not only things, but also they themselves aren't perfect.
  • Kindness: Reach out in a generous, open-hearted way.
  • Openness: Share and receive ideas.
  • Accomodation: Give people a break for being in situations beyond their control.
  • Consideration: Take care to minimize inconvenience for others.
  • Curiousity: Ready to try out something completely different, even when the outcome is unclear.
  • Mindfulness: Willing to consider cause, effect and circumstance.
As a counter-indicator, when these character traits are either absent or even exploited within an organization, this will pose a challenge that won't be overcome by a single Scrum Master.



Summary

The importance of human virtues and relationships in picking the right place to make an impact as a Scrum Master should not be underestimated. Forget the job descriptions and have a conversation.

Shift the focus away from what people currently believe about how Scrum should look like and take a closer look at the character which people within the organization exhibit.

Coaching and change are much easier when there are positive character traits visible. At the same time, when these traits are compromized, there's a massive chance that coaching will not have an impact and no change will happen.

Don't try to help everyone. Pick the people who are willing to receive it.


Addendum

A very good article with good interview questions a Scrum Master / Agile Coach may want to ask can be found here:
https://www.toptal.com/project-managers/scrum-master/5-scrum-master-questions

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