Category Archives: coaching

Training The Trainers

Agile Learning Labs is partnering with Tobias Mayer to put on a brand new series of workshops aimed at trainers, coaches and advanced practitioners of Agile. We’re calling it Creative Edge: Training & Coaching for Coaches & Trainers. Catchy, eh? The Scrum Alliance is generously sponsoring the series, so there will naturally be special pricing for members.

So far Tobias has assembled a diverse and stimulating lineup:

  • Lyssa Adkins will teach a course titled Coaching Agile Teams. If you’re a fan of Lyssa’s recent book, Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition (as you should be) you won’t want to miss this one.
  • Lee Devin will teach Artful Making for Coaches and Teams, which draws from improv traditions to help you become a more responsive and innovative instructor.
  • Sharon L. Bowman will lead a workshop based on her rather awesome book, Teaching from the Back of the Room. If you’ve been wondering how to avoid being responsible for lecture/PowerPoint snoozefests in your work, this course will teach you how to create more organic learning opportunities.

These courses will be offered repeatedly, in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boulder, and Seattle. The first date is October 28-29, so visit the Creative Edge homepage with alacrity. There you can find out which class that will be, and sign up to be notified when venues are finalized and registration opens. We will be offering highly favorable pricing, and if you’re a member of the Scrum Alliance, the discounting will be absolutely crazy, so hie thee hence!

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InfoQ: Agile Coach Camp Announced

Chris' most recent InfoQ article is a preview of Agile Coach Camp, billed as the Open Space conference "delivering value to those delivering value." The conference, which takes place in Durham, NC next month, is a bit different than most Agile gatherings, in that aspiring participants must "audition" for admission by submitting a position paper, guaranteeing a high level of professional discourse. Check out Chris' article for a preview of some of the topics proposed so far. Last year, Chris facilitated a couple of sessions, including one on What Makes Agile Projects Succeed.

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Agile Games Par-tay! Yes siree…

Think we don't know how to have fun here at Technical Management Institute Agile Learning Labs? Oh yes, we do! We're throwing a wild party on Wednesday, April 29th at Ristretto Roasters in Portland, OR with our pal and test obsessed training partner Elisabeth Hendrickson of Quality Tree Software. It's a warm-up for our day-long class May 1st for Agile coaches and consultants on how to create agile games, but it's also a stand-alone event. There will be coffee, pastries, and the opportunity to have some geeky fun playing Agile learning games with your compatriots. It's free, so come on down!

Agile Games Party
Ristretto Roasters
3808 N Williams Ave
Portland, OR 97213

6pm-9pm, April 29th

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What Makes Agile Teams Succeed (or Fail)? – Agile Coach Camp


This is the first of a two sessions that I facilitated at Agile Coach Camp. A small group of agile coaches, including Ron Jefferies came together on Saturday to consider the question “What makes agile teams succeed (or Fail)?” Using the Group Wisdom Without Groupthink process, we generated, discussed, and ranked about a dozen ideas.

Compared to previous groups that I have facilitated this type of session for, there was more discussion around each of the suggestions. The names we chose to represent the ideas, which are listed below, each stand for a richer idea that the group developed.

Here are the top-ranked ideas that the group generated:

Tier One
Have motivated people

Tier Two
Manage by (carefully chosen) objectives

Tier Three
Disciplined use of best practices

Tier Four
Don’t time slice your people

Tier Five
Don’t automate process until they are well understood
Don’t have multiple product owners with overlapping authority
Great story cards

You may also be interested in seeing the results from groups that have considered (essentially) the same question:
P-Camp 2008
Code Camp 2007
Agile Open California 2007



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IEEE Silicon Valley Technology Management Council – February Notes

At the February IEEE Silicon Valley Technology Management Council meeting the group did an exercise to generated practical suggestions for implementing four management ideals. The group broke up into 4 teams; each considered one management ideal, and then reported their suggestions for implementing the ideal back to the whole group. The whole exercise took 30 minutes and included networking as well as idea generation.

Here are my notes on the ideas that each team generated. Clarifications and additions are welcome!

Clear Communication
This team decided to focus the topic more tightly to: ‘clear communication with a remote team.’ Here are some of their suggestions.

Prefer written communication to verbal.
Write in a simple, understandable style.
Take the time to verify that that each side of a communication really understands the meaning.
Acknowledge each communication.
Take the time to learn about the cultural differences.
Have a master schedule.
Anything that increases visibility is good.
Make use of structured system for communication.
Make use of chaotic informal communication channels.
Establish shared vision and goals, and get the buy-in of all team members.
Use visual elements to enhance communication.

Appreciates the Service of Others
Be generous with rewards.
Verbally praise people when they do good work.
Take the person to lunch or dinner.
Provide ongoing feedback, both positive and negative.
Don’t forget to appreciate the work of junior people.
In high-pressure situations, take the time to listen to people, and appreciate their input.

Know each team members strengths and weaknesses
Read the resume and personnel file of each person on your team.
Communicate regularly and take notes.
Focus on personal goals and aligning those with the team and company goals.
Ask them what their strengths and weaknesses are!
Assign them a variety of tasks, requiring different skills, and note the results.
Study how volunteer organizations work, as many are excellent at making the best use of the strengths of their volunteers.
Do a group exercise to discuss the strengths and weakness of the team.
Do a review after each milestone.
Decide if it is better to strengthen weaknesses or play to strengths.
Don’t forget to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the team as a whole.

Be a team builder
Be sure to acknowledge the work of people on the team.
Give people clear objectives.
Listen first.
Choose projects that will be successful.
Provide realistic and well-defined goals.
Talk things through calmly when there are conflicts.
Promote open communication.
Be the best leader that you can be!
Allow all to explore their ideas.
Support each other; keep your commitments to each other.
Verify assumptions.
Allow for creativity.

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Compliments – Positive Feedback

Compliments and criticism are the two edges of the feedback sword. Today, The Chief Happiness Officer’s Blog explains that to be effective, compliments must be specific. This generalizes well to ‘feedback must be specific’. In particular, you want to clearly describe the behavior that you observed. For instance: “Bob, I see that while you were fixing that bug you also added several new tests and refactored the module.” Now that Bob knows exactly what you are going to compliment him on, tell him about the impact this will have: “That will really make it easier for people to work in that module in the future, and probably prevent some bugs too!” At this point, if we were delivering criticism, we would request a change in behavior. Since we are giving a compliment, we can simply say thank you: “I really appreciate you doing that. Thanks.”

You can find more on feedback here.

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A Different Kind of Tolerance in the Workplace

Dannyman pointed out this quote from William L. McKnight, past Chairman of the Board at 3M.

As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way. Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.

This idea applies to the manager leading a small team, not just to the CEO. While giving guidance is necessary, controlling all aspects of how your team members work is not. Nobody wants to be micro-managed.

The other bit in there is tolerating mistakes. There are two broad categories of ‘mistakes’ that your people will make. The first type isn’t really a mistake at all, though you will think it is. They will choose to do things differently than you would. Very often, our instinct is that different is wrong, or at the very least, not as good as the way we would do the thing. After all, you are the manager, the leader, and the expert. Right? Remember all the times your boss wanted you to do things some way that was clearly not as good as the way you wanted to? Now that you are a leader, work hard not to be that boss.

The second type of mistake that your people will make is a mistake. It can be hard to tell this type of mistake from the first kind until the results are in. When these mistakes happen, err on the side of tolerance. Help the person to examine the mistake and learn from it, in a way that is supportive. Good people don’t like to fail. The pain of the failure will be punishment enough for them.

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Heads up! The Chief Happiness Officer is urging people to complain at work. His point is that complaining in a constructive way can make the workplace better. Fair enough, but what if you are a new manager and you are the one listening to all of these complaints?

I once had a direct report that was constantly finding things to complain about. He was well-intentioned, smart, and one of the most productive engineers on the team. The things that he was complaining about were all things that could, in fact, stand some improvement. He thought that by pointing out everything that could use fixing, he was doing his part.

Next time he came to me with a complaint, I asked him what he thought could be done to improve the situation, and specifically what could he do to help implement a fix. He happily went into problem solving mode and generated several potential solutions. We then discussed the merits of each and compared the costs to the benefits. We chose a course of action and each of us committed to taking some specific actions to improve the situation. After that session, he almost always came armed with potential fixes to go along with his complaints.

It’s OK to complain. It is often much more useful to propose a solution, especially one that you are willing to implement.

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I just read this article at It had some excellent advice about how to give, and how not to give, feedback to others in the workplace. Feedback is one of the most powerful tools in a manager’s toolbox. Use it early; use it often. It is far better to give regular feedback than to save it up for performance review time.

The author, Esther Derby, recommends a multi-step approach to giving feedback that is similar to that recommended by the guys over at Manager Tools, though a bit more flexible.

The steps include:

The Opening – Basically letting the person know that you want to give them some feedback and finding out if this is a good time. Of course, you should pick a time that you think is good for them before making your approach; check their calendar!

Sharing What You Observed – This is all about reporting the facts of the behavior that you are giving feedback on. Doing this without coloring it with judgment can be tricky, but is very important. At this stage it is better to say “Tom, I noticed you surfing the web during Bob’s presentation today.” than something like “You were disrespectful toward Bob this morning.” It is much easier for Tom to dispute whether or not he was being respectful than his web surfing. You really want to get agreement that the behavior occurred.

Describing the Impact – Here you might describe how others where distracted by his surfing, and that it undermines Bob and the information that was being presented. This step may not even be needed, as many people will quickly grasp the problem with their behavior. Tom might say, “Gee, I didn’t realize that other people would notice. I guess I was a bit of a distraction.” This may be as far as you need to go.

Request a Change – Tom may volunteer to change his behavior, or at least acknowledge the problem in a way that implies he will change. If he does not, then request some specific change such as leaving the laptop behind at these types of meetings.

Finally, it is worth noting that feedback can be positive as well as negative. Human nature being what it is, people tend to be more receptive to positive feedback. Use it! Reinforcing the good behaviors is just as important as changing the bad.

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