Category Archives: coaching

5 Reasons Scrum Helps Teams Become High-Performing Faster

Scrum masters and product owners know how hard it is to get their team to become high-performing. They can rest assured that they’re on the right track. Scrum helps teams become high-performing faster than other work methods. The reason is simple. Becoming high-performing is baked into the scrum recipe. In my experience coaching agile teams, I have observed over and over that teams that use scrum go from forming, storming, norming and ultimately to high-performing more quickly and reliably than teams that don’t. Here are five reasons why:
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Performance Review Pain Relief – The Agile Way

Performance Review Pain ReliefTake a piece of yellow paper, a slice of pizza, and a couple of guys with clipboards – and what do you have?

Last week – it was the latest gathering of the North Bay Agile Meetup group. The topic was “Performance Review Pain Relief.” So what would you do with that piece of paper –- write a performance review –- or make an airplane? At this Meetup –- we did both.

Led by Chris Sims of Agile Learning Labs and Harold Shinsanto –- we formed agile teams of expert paper airplane manufacturers. And in the course of producing some of the most embarrassing paper airplanes in aeronautical history –- the group explored what works and doesn’t work with performance reviews.
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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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