Coaching ~ It’s more than just asking questions

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A common belief is that the difference between coaching and managing is simply asking questions rather than giving orders.  I used to believe this.  Instead of making decisions for my teams and telling them what to do I would ask them questions and get them to derive their own solutions.  I thought that meant I was coaching.  But the more I got into coaching the more I really wanted to make sure I was doing it right and being effective.  So, over the past two years I have invested in myself and in my craft.  I have learned everything I can about professional coaching and gotten mentoring by master coaches.

What I learned through the experience is that coaching is ALOT more than just asking questions.  In fact, through this experience I learned that professional coaching skills (and a ton of techniques and coaching models) can mean the difference between being adequate or being excellent for a scrum master, agile coach, or agile manager.

Now, I’m on a mission and a journey to mentor scrum masters in learning coaching skills and show them how to apply them in real world scenarios with agile teams.  As an agile coach I have the unique opportunity to develop scrum masters in a way that I have never seen done before and I’m excited and humbled to get this opportunity to invest in the careers of a great group of people.

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Are Your Stories Ready?

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This week I was particularly impressed with a method used by a Scrum Master to help his team understand which stories on the backlog were “ready” and which were not.  It’s amazing how such a simple technique can bring the transparency needed to help a team prepare for a successful sprint.  His technique is to use colored stickers as markers on the ordered product backlog hanging on the wall next to the team’s scrum board to indicate the state of the story.  If the story is not groomed it gets a red sticker.  When the team begins grooming the story and has made pretty good progress but isn’t all the way in line with the definition of ready yet, he changes the sticker to yellow.  Once the team has completed grooming the story and it meets the definition of ready, it gets a green sticker.  This green sticker is an indication to the team that the story is fully groomed and ready to be pulled into a sprint.

Prior to sprint planning, he works with his product owner to ensure that any stories she has ordered towards the top of the backlog that are potential candidates for the next sprint are in ready state.  If a story is not in ready state the team does not pull it into a sprint regardless of where it is on the product backlog.

This scrum master is inspiring those around him with simple yet profound ideas and ways of creating growth in the team and product owner.

An elephant and a monkey went for a walk last sprint …

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This week I was walking past a conference room where a Scrum Master was preparing for the team’s retrospective.  I had to stop and take a picture because I really loved what I saw.  Here are a few of the things that really impressed me:

  1. The team’s improvement plan from the last retrospective is represented. This helps to solidify the value from the last retrospective’s suggested improvements.  By circling back around and discussing the team’s experience with the past action plan it helps the team to measure to see if the changes actually impacted their ability to become higher performing.  This also helps the team intentionally create ways to ensure that they act upon the plan they create because they re-evaluate how they implemented them and if the changes need to be adopted as part of the working agreement or if they were not valuable enough to continue.
  2. It is creative and fun.  You don’t need to be an artist to draw pictures for a retrospective.  In fact, I’ve found that scrum masters who can’t draw well but do it anyway have the most success!  Being willing to really put yourself out there when you know there’s an obvious lack of talent shows the team that you are willing to bring your full self in order to help them grow.  It helps to foster trust and relationship because you aren’t hiding your weaknesses from them.  The lack of drawing skill usually becomes a fun joke for the whole team as they try to identify what your pictures represent.  (In this retro the big joke was, “What in the world is the monkey doing?”  Answer= He’s pulling the elephant’s tail and frustrating him!)
  3. It uses the coaching skill of metaphor. This picture represents the teams experiences through the last sprint.  It helps the team to look at the sprint from multiple perspectives.  The perspective of positive things like things that specifically are helping us to do well and be better and things we want to celebrate.  It also helps the team get real about what’s frustrating them and what is really holding back their growth and progress in areas.  These perspectives take the team deeper than just what went well and what didn’t.