I spent some time coaching one of my clients* recently who was planning an event and needed to enlist the help of others in order to be successful.  The problem she was facing involved feeling overwhelmed.  She knew that there were many details that she didn’t have the best skill set to handle.  She said that she felt stuck because she didn’t know who she could pass the responsibility to and didn’t know how to hand over the work to them.  She felt like she had to maintain the ownership and babysit all of the details and that feeling was very overwhelming.

As we worked together we identified that what she needed was more confidence in her understanding about how delegation works.  This is what we discovered that enabled her to move forward and have a more effective working relationship with the others on her planning committee.

1.  Set proper expectations.  Describe the responsibilities you expect the person to take on.  Set boundaries around what they should and should not do.  Describe the outcomes you wish to see.

2. Determine and agree upon the feedback loop.  Set expectations for how often you expect to get reports on progress, how detailed the reports should be when presented.  Set expectations for how you want the information communicated.  For example:  written reports, emails, meetings, informal communication, etc.

3.  Empower with proper authority to accomplish the task.  Establish clear guidelines for the amount of authority they have to make decisions and when they should seek approval.  Give them the autonomy to work within the expectations and boundaries provided.  When others come to you to make decisions in areas where you have given the delegate authority, point them towards the delegate for answers so you do not undercut the authority given them.

4.  Check in at established intervals and make adjustments to the agreement as needed.

Following these simple steps to delegation can help you be a more effective leader.

*Printed with permission


“Tell me why you think we should consider you for the CST.  I’ve never heard of you, never seen you at any user groups, haven’t met you at any conferences, never seen you speak publicly, and you are making no contributions to the agile community.”  Those words spoken by Devon Morris, CST were critical to my path to become a CEC.  His advice to me that day was, “If you want to be a CST do something about it.  Get out there.  Join the Agile community.  Go to user groups.  Go to conferences.  Speak at conferences.  I want to see you and know who you are.  And you can never stop coaching.  You can’t be a good CST if you aren’t coaching.  That’s where everything you know comes from.  That’s where you gain your credibility and true expertise that can help people.”  Well, Devon, thank you for being hard on me.  Thank you for speaking truth to me.  Thank you for shining some light on my path.  And thank you for inspiring me to go forth and conquer.

I’m writing about the experiences I had on my journey to being a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach because it is a long journey that many never complete.  There’s no one way to get there because everyone has a different road to walk.  My road was about following my heart and always chasing things I was passionate about.  My road wasn’t about the application process – it was about the growth and learning I encountered along the way.  And I would like to share a few things about my experience that I hope will help others.

Tip #1  – Remain humble.  Be open to input and advice.  Listen when the reviewers and mentors who have walked this path before you give you feedback.  They aren’t picking on you.  They want to see you grow and want you to be successful.  If they tell you that you need more experience, go get it.  Don’t get mad…get better!

A couple of months after my conversation with Devon, I heard a fellow consultant and agile coach saying that he had applied for the CSC (the former name for CEC) and had been rejected and he wasn’t very happy.  This sparked my curiosity because I had never heard of the program so I began to investigate. What I found was that the CEC was a much better path for me because it was more closely aligned to what I really loved doing — Agile transformation.  I pulled the sample application from the website and started looking over the monstrous requirements to be a CEC and realized just how spot on Devon’s advice was to me.  And just how far from qualified I was.

I knew that I had at least 3 years of hard work ahead of me just to qualify to fill in the application.  But, the application I held in my hand was more than just a path to a certification.  These requirements were the guide that I would follow to learn and grow as an agile coach.

TIP #2 — Be strategic.  Get the application and pay close attention to the requirements.  If you don’t clearly meet them all make a plan to close the gap.  Don’t be in a hurry to get the certification.  Remember, the journey is about your growth as a coach.  The goal is to learn to be excellent – not just meet requirements for a certification.

I started investing in the agile community by speaking at conferences and user groups.  I volunteered to mentor people in the agile community and connected to individuals I coached to develop mentoring relationships — all things I completely loved.  I learned to surround myself with people who were more experienced than me who I could learn from and I watched them and listened to them.  They served as mentors to me and validated my gut instincts and helped me to learn to make better decisions in my coaching.  They gave me advice about how I could be better – and they were right!

TIP #3 – Invest in yourself.  Invest in others.  Get involved in the Agile community.  Allow others to invest in you.  Be with passionate people and learn from them.  Remember, the CEC isn’t just a certification.  It is a way to validate and confirm that you have solid experience and expertise that can help people and organizations experience success.

One decision I made early on was that I would only work with a client for one year or less.  This personal choice allowed me to work with three fortune 500 companies in three years getting experience in multiple different industries.  It provided the opportunity to try new methods and expedite learning through success and failure.

TIP #4 – Get experience in multiple organizations and learn from your mistakes.  Learn that what works with some won’t work with others.  Focus on teams.  Focus on management.  Focus on C-Level leaders.  You must have solid experience in all three to be an effective enterprise coach.  Experiment and fail.  Learn, learn, learn.

At some point I realized that my skill set needed to be expanded into professional coaching in order to truly serve my clients well.  So, over the next 2 years I took 170 hours of professional coaching training from two different coaching schools.  I practiced these skills with individuals, teams, and people outside of the agile industry.   I paid mentor coaches to monitor coaching sessions and give me feedback that helped me to sharpen my coaching skills.  While focusing on professional coaching I continued to  attend conferences and other agile training classes where I was able to learn how to use these new skills in an agile environment.

TIP #5 – Get educated.  You must have professional coaching skills in order to coach leaders and to effectively coach organizations in transformation.  My recommendations for this training are:
  • CTI (Coaches Training Institute) is a great coaching organization who works with a lot of agile coaches.  They teach creative co-active coaching which is focused on individual coaching but the techniques are easily translated to coaching teams.
  • ORSC (Organizational Relationship and Systems Coaching), taught by CRR Global is another valuable recommendation.  This coaching focuses on coaching groups, teams, and organizations specifically. They also work with a lot of agile coaches.
  • Agile Coaching Institute teaches several valuable courses that will help you to apply these professional coaching skills in an agile environment and at the enterprise level specifically.  I recommend the Coaching Agile Teams Bootcamp, The Coaching Stance, The Agile Manager, and Agile Wizardry for enterprise coaches.

Periodically, I checked the application that still sat on my desk where I’d laid it when printed and used it to guide me as I filled in the gaps in my expertise and experience.  Finally, over three years after my conversation with Devon, I paid the fee and got the official application from Scrum Alliance.

Tip #6 – Cherish the experience.  Completing part I was a beautiful experience for me.  Filling in the information gave me the opportunity to think about all I had done and learned over the past few years.  It also helped me to recognize and remember all the people who contributed to who I am today.  I felt humbled as listed mentoring relationships I had formed and recalled how amazing it was to watch people grow into great scrummasters, managers, and teams.  It was actually a bit overwhelming to see it all written in one place because until that time I didn’t have a complete record of my journey.   It took me two months to fill in Part I because I took my time and thought through every section carefully as I filled in the details.  After submitting the application I waited anxiously about a month before getting the approval to move to Part II.

When I read through part II my heart stopped.  I read over every one of those questions about 50 times and they were intimidating because I had no idea how I would answer them.  It all seemed very easy until the moment of truth came.  So, I just took it one step at a time.  I read questions one at a time and internalized them.  Before attempting to craft an answer, I thought on each question for days … sometimes weeks … and over a month on a few occasions.

Tip #7 – Take your time to understand the questions and to really understand your position on the answer.  There isn’t a time limit to complete the application.  Rushing will not serve your purpose.  Be honest.  Be vulnerable.  Don’t try to look like a super hero.  It takes maturity to honestly explain what you have learned through your failures and to show how you recovered to help clients move forward.

I wasn’t sure how many of my references would actually send in a referral so I contacted extra people just to be sure.  It took several months for the recommendations to be sent to Scrum Alliance because people weren’t sure exactly what they should say.  I asked them to be completely honest about the quality of my work, the state of their organization when I arrived, how I impacted the organization, and to describe any impact I had on them personally.  I also sought references from people at multiple levels who were able to describe my work throughout the layers of the organization.

Tip #8– Decide who the best people for client recommendations are and speak to them early.  Clearly explain what the recommendation is for and ask if they are willing to speak on your behalf.  When they say yes, clearly spell out what the recommendation needs to contain and how to send it to Scrum Alliance.  Ask them to be finished by a specific date.  If you do not get a notification from Scrum Alliance by the agreed upon date, follow up and remind them of the need.

Finally a year after beginning part one I completed part II.  I held on to the application for another two weeks and carefully re-read and revised my answers until I felt completely comfortable with them.  After submitting part two I received a response telling me that one of my answers was too long and that I had too many recommendations.  After revising the answer,  I had to make a note on the application telling the reviewers that if they chose to only consider two of my client recommendations and one mentor recommendation, which ones I preferred them to consider.

Tip #9 – Adhere to word limits and follow all the instructions.  Be patient and be professional.  Remember, every reviewer is a volunteer who is reviewing applications that can be 40 pages long on their own time in order to help you grow.

Throughout the entire process, about once a month I received an email showing where my application was in the process.  It took about two months for my application to be reviewed once I submitted part II.  But finally, I received that long awaited email telling me that my application was approved.  One thing that I didn’t know about during the process was that there is a google group for CEC Candidates that you can join to ask questions and even connect with a CEC who will mentor you through the process and give you feedback on your application.

Tip #10 – Join the CEC Candidate google group and read the postings.  They will give you information that can help you.  Ask for a mentor to review your application and give you advice.

The journey to become a CEC is long and hard.  It is also a journey worth taking.  Don’t give up even if you submit your application and it doesn’t get approved right away.  Listen to the feedback and go learn more.  Remember, what’s really important is that you become an amazing enterprise coach and serve your clients well.



A Few weeks ago while attending a Coaching Agile Teams class I heard one of the instructors (Lyssa Adkins) make a reference in passing to “signal to noise” ratio in reference to our ability to communicate with others.  Her comment intrigued me because I’d never heard that phrase before, so I started to do some investigation.

Signal-to-noise ratio (abbreviated SNR or S/N) is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise.

Signal-to-noise ratio is sometimes used informally to refer to the ratio of useful  information to false or irrelevant information in a conversation or exchange. For example, in online communities, off-topic posts and spam are regarded as “noise” that interferes with the “signal” of appropriate discussion.
Signal-to-noise ratio is defined as the ratio of the power of a signal (meaningful information) and the power of background noise (unwanted signal):

SNR =  Power of the Signal / Power of the Noise

The higher the SNR the less noise is in the conversation.   For example, a conversation that had 15 sentences on topic (signal) and 3 sentences off topic (noise) would have a SNR score of 5.  But, a conversation that had 15 sentences on topic (signal) and 23 sentences off topic (noise) would have an SNR score of .65 and would more than likely be a less clear and effective conversation.

Signal-to-noise ratios in conversations often go down when people feel the need to qualify their comments with explanations.  These explanations, while intended to convey clarity around the message, often lead to confusion because they make conversations harder to follow.

Another signal-to-noise ratio killer happens when people attempt to clarify questions by stacking other explanatory questions on top rather than just letting the question stand on its own merit.  Questions become less powerful when the listener has to sort through multiple questions and determine which one to answer.  The reason people stack questions is driven by a fear that their original question was not clear or that it needed to be justified.  It is better to just ask one question and trust that if the listener needs the question clarified, they will ask for clarification.

One skill that coaches use to combat the signal-to-noise ratio is bottom-lining.  Bottom lining is when you strip all the extra words out of conversations, sentences, and questions and speak to the essence of the message you want to convey.  Bottom lining uses fewer words and creates a higher signal to (lower) noise ratio.  Because there is less noise in the conversation it is easier to follow and remain engaged.  It is proven that the most effective questions generally contain 3-7 words; so,  asking questions in this bottom line manner the questions actually become clearer and easier to answer and thus, more powerful.

One exercise you might try while learning this skill is to tell a story in 1 minute.  This exercise helps you learn to sort through all of the details you could tell and forces you to speak to the essence of the story with only the most important information.

Another way you can practice this skill is to review emails and other written correspondence before sending them and determine how many words you can pull out by rephrasing.  What information is not really important to the main point of the message you are trying to send?  Can you bottom line the information into 3-4 bullet points?

I encourage you to practice this skill and pay attention to the difference it makes in your conversations.  Notice if some of your monologues start shifting to dialogues.  Keep in touch and let me know what you learned through the experience.


(This post is by guest blogger, Kenny Barnes.)

For our latest retrospective, I created a jeopardy board using JeopardyLabs – Online Jeopardy Template.   I used a mix of Agile related categories (Scrum, Agile), items related to the team [Working Agreements, Sprint (more details below)] and something the team is really passionate about (Star Wars).  It took about an hour and a half to come up with the questions/answers and setup the board.

To play the game, the team drew numbers and broke up into two teams.  The teams then took turns picking a category and amount.  If the team picking didn’t know the answer, the other team had an opportunity to answer and take the points.  We ended with a final jeopardy question related to Star Wars that saw one team answer correctly for the win.

Now you might be asking yourself, well this is cool but how did you come up with an action plan or discuss any team issues?  Well the Sprint category took care of this.  The “answers” in this category had both teams, regardless of who selected it, come up with things that worked well, didn’t work well, wins to celebrate, etc.  Each team had two to three minutes to come up with the answer to these questions.  We then had each team give their answers and we discussed them.  The $400 selection was what do you want to try this next sprint.  We had a great discussion and came up with our action plan.

The team really enjoyed playing the game and the change of pace it offered.  They definitely want to do it again next quarter.

Rubber Duck Productivity

Posted: November 6, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,


Today, one of our team members taught me about rubber duck productivity.

This was an experiment where people found that they were more productive when they kept a rubber duck on their desk. When they encountered a problem they were having trouble solving they would talk to the duck and tell the duck the problem.

In the course of explaining the problem to the duck they would usually discover the solution. Thus, being more productive than just trying to solve problems in the reaches of their own mind.

The moral of this story: Talk it through with someone – quit trying to solve it on your own!


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.


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.