The six-step agile transition coaching model

What does a coach do - and how does a typical agile coaching engagement look like? 

This is my personal model - it may also serve as a discussion basis for others.

"What does an agile coach do?" - this model is an attempt at answering the question.

Stage 1 - Engage 

(with the as-is-system)
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
- The Bible, Matthew 7:1-2

In the first stage of a new client engagement, I engage with teams, management and business stakeholders. Even though I may have (deep) industry expertise already, I start with a blank slate. I look around, I listen, I ask. Regardless of what I encounter, I remind myself that people have reasons for doing what they do, for thinking what they think - for saying what they say.

I have no opinion in this stage. I am like a dry sponge, absorbing information.
In the Engage stage, my notebook fills rapidly, maybe 10-20 pages a day and not much precipitates, because nothing of what I write would be new for anyone who has been within the organization for a while.

The outcome of the Engage Stage is nothing more than a book of notes which nobody except me gets to touch.

How long does the Engage stage take? Depending on the complexity of the organization and intended change, anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

Stage 2 - Prepare

(the as-is-system for change)
Grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
- Reinhold Niebuhr, "The Serenity Prayer"

Every organization has to deal with certain circumstances. Some are mutable, others immutable. And even some of the mutable things may not be ready yet. Change strategy and communication is a very unique process, different for every single organization.

In this stage, I make proposals and verify them for feasibility. I still don't seem to be "doing" much -  the approach needs to be tempered by the current reality of my client. Bringing my client to a different reality doesn't depend on me - it depends on them: what they can see, what they are ready for and what they are willing to do.

The outcome of the Prepare stage is a transition strategy picture - I prefer to have a single page showing the Vision, main Objectives and a transition backlog with prioritized, sorted Key Results.
(it would be preposterous to say that the picture doesn't change - that's what being agile is all about!)

Depending on how available and open clients are for providing input and feedback on the strategy, this, too, can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks - it becomes a drag in organizations where people are continuously "too busy to improve" and really fast if I can get people into a Workshop.


Stage 3 - Build Up

(something new with the people)
I'm focusing on the issues that bring people together and build broad majorities.
-Doug Ducey

In this stage, I work with the transition backlog to establish agile processes, practices, structures and mindset. The backlog allows me to focus and not overburden the client with too many parallel changes. What gets built up how in this stage depends on where the client stands and what they are ready for. It's not a linear process, it depends on continuous, deep feedback.

People can be built up in various ways: Formal training in frameworks such as Scrum or Kanban or methods such as BDD can open new horizons. Practical guidance, such as support in setting up the Backlog or offering insights into how to hold effective Reviews, boosts capability. When the a process gets reworked, I may propose unknown alternate approaches and then encourage independent experimentation with the process. 

This stage is the main stage where my own understanding of agile practices matters most, as the client usually simply doesn't know what they don't know or why the things they do won't get them where they want to go.

The outcome of the Build-Up stage are people - teams, managers and stakeholders - who have gained a new understanding and are equipped and ready to try out something new.

Since there is no universal definition of what it means to be "Built Up" and no objective standard for "feeling ready", this stage also depends strongly on the client's people and culture. The coaching process starts to become diffuse here, as some people might be in the "Strengthen" or "Support" stage already while others are still in need of building up.

Stage 4 - Strengthen

(new beliefs and practices)
Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labour does the body.
-Seneca

During the Strengthen phase, I help people to familiarize themselves with the new practices and ideas in their daily work. That could be anything like taking a look at the Kanban board and asking about queues or WIP limits, helping teams increase the effectiveness of their meetings, moderating Retrospectives to bring forth significant change and also individual coaching on the job - such as pair programming with developers, developing value propositions with Product Owners or walking Gemba with management.

The outcome of the Strengthen stage are people who feel confident in using new practices and who are willing to think in new directions.

It depends too much on the individual to answer how long it takes to continue through the Strengthening stage, as this is really a highly individual matter.


Stage 5 - Support

(others as they go their own way)
Believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.
-Misty Copeland

In the Support stage, my coachees anchor a new mindset. I work mostly to build up a self-sustained habit of feedback and growth while the show belongs entirely to the client (both teams and managers), who often habitually fall back into old behaviours and thoughts.
I coach by reminding people of their positive achievements, helping them discover and take the next step on their own, while also holding them accountable when they resort to behaviours they had decided to abandon.

The outcome of the Support stage are people who have made feedback and reflection a habit, who have no need of myself in their daily business.

The Support stage can be stable with a low amount of engagement over a prolonged period of time, but may be optional when the client has established internal mechanisms to create closed feedback loops.

Stage 6 - Journey onwards

(to new horizons)
Every day is a new day, and you'll never be able to find happiness if you don't move on.
-Carrie Underwood

Every journey comes to an end as the destination is achieved, and a new journey with a new destination starts. The end of my journey with a client is the beginning of their journey without me.

When bidding farewell, I like to part ways knowing that my client knows where they are heading and which are the next steps they will take, so we best close with a Retrospective to create a clear vision for the future of my client.

The "Journey Onwards" stage ends with the order - although I may still retain informal touchpoints  irrespective of budgets or commercial gain. After all, we're human beings whose relationships shouldn't depend solely on money.



Closing words

Sadly, most clients only plan budgets until Stage 3 - "Build Up", which oftentimes results in organizations reverting to old habits and practices, lacking understanding how they are damaging their own progress.
Although this is the normal case, I prefer to work with clients who take care to complete what they have begun.

Equally saddening is to see coaches/consultants who purposely create dependencies upon themselves, never enabling the client to take autonomous control because doing so would dry up their revenue stream.

I feel it fair to inform my clients that "A Transformation isn't done with 1-2 months coaching", and that my engagement will quickly diminish once I am confident that they can do it, which neither means that I am suddenly disinterested nor that it's already a good time to stop.

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