Category Archives: Agile_Role

Candid, Unscripted Conversation About SAFe, with Roman Pichler

I (Gene is here) had the pleasure of having a discussion with Roman Pichler, the author of “Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love” (as well as a few other great publications), who recently wrote “Five Product Owner Myths Busted“, making multiple references to SAFe.  In our discussion, particularly, we focused on the following three myths:

  • Myth #2: The product owner is a tactical role focused on managing the product backlog
  • Myth #3: The product owner is responsible for the team performance
  • Myth #4: The product owner is responsible for writing user stories

Make Your Coaching Organization Into A Role Model For The Rest Of Your Organization

In this post:


Introduction:

In their journey, to become more adaptive (agile), organizations need guidance and support.  Ideally, organizations should own their own agile transformations: experiments, decisions, successes and failures, with minimal reliance on external help, especially, from low quality consultants and large consulting companies (see recommended mix below).  What should internal (to a company) agile coaching organization look like? What/who should it include?  Who should lead it?  How should it be executed?

Unfortunately, many organizations, still prefer a “quick fix” approach to solve this problem, by loosely relabeling existing, traditional structures into “agile” structures, or rebranding traditional roles into “agile” roles. For example:  PMO → Agile PMO, senior project managers → enterprise & team agile coaches, junior project managers → Scrum Masters, etc.  This en-masse/big-bang approach, should be avoided.  As Albert Einstein once said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

One general advice to an organization that wants to build its own internal agile coaching structure, is to keep in mind that the rest of an organization will look up to it, as a role model. Therefore, an agile coaching structure should keep its own bar high and practice what it preaches, in terms of having a lean design, effective communication and healthy internal dynamics.

Agile Transformation Group

For the purpose of this writing, an entire agile coaching structure is referred to as Agile Transformation Group (herein, abbreviated, as ATG).  Here are a few recommendations, regarding its purpose/focus, position and structure: 

>>Purpose/Focus:

The main purpose of ATG is to a spearhead organization-wide effort to become more adaptive.  This includes organizational consulting, training/education, coaching and mentoring capabilities that would be made available widely, to various organizational structures and employees.  The main “deliverable” of ATG should be consistent with main optimizing goals (e.g. better competitiveness, increased market share, lowered costs of changes).  ATG may refer to its own deliverable as service, or product, or combination of both, or anything else, as long as the rest of an organization understands ATG’s main purpose and sees value in what is being delivered.

>>Position:

It is critical to position ATG in a way that it receives executive management support, steady funding and operational safety.  Executive management support and funding must not come in spirit-only (e.g. a town-hall announcement: “we support your agile transformation and here is an unlimited budget for you to spend on this new effort”) but rather with direct and intimate involvement, by executive management that is willing to invest its own time in learning and deep system thinking.  Operational safety implies that ATG should not be placed within a traditional organizational structure that historically has not provided a sufficient support to organizational adaptive-ness/agile: PMO, enterprise architecture, etc.  You also want to avoid creating centralized power-towers that impose/enforce agile onto the rest of an organization – this will just lead to “broad & shallow” results, system gaming and resentment.  When building and positioning ATG, please, consider a healthy balance between centralized vs. decentralized approach, balancing between standardizing coaching approaches, tools & techniques and offering autonomy to coaches that are deeply engaged with teams and products.

>>Structure:

ATG should provide a great role model to the rest of your organization, in terms of its design, relationships, communication and dynamics. If ATG’s goal is to help an organization become more nimble, reduce bureaucracy and silos, eliminate contractual relationships (“me vs. you”), promote cross-functional teaming, etc., ATG should be able to demonstrate the same qualities, within its own space.

Lets review an example, when ATG decides to adopt a lean, agile framework, such as Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), used for large-scale, multi-site product development. If such decision is made, it would have to include the following organizational elements in its own design:

  • Head of ATG (an equivalent to Head of Product Group in LeSS), whose responsibility would be to provide an overarching organizational support and protection to ATG. Ideally, everyone within ATG would report to Head of ATG, similarly to how everyone (teams and Product Owner) report to Head of Product Group in LeSS.
  • ATG Product/Service Owner, whose main responsibility would be to prioritize organizational requests for agile training, consulting, coaching and mentoring support, would be positioned, on par (same level) with teams, and report directly to Head of ATG (similarly, to how Product Owner reports to Head of Product Group in LeSS, mentioned above).
  • Teams (self-organized/managed, cross-functional and long-lived), whose responsibility would be to engage with various areas of the rest of an organization, for training, coaching, consulting and mentoring support.
  • Communities (informal, horizontal organizational structures), whose main function would be to support and promote functional learning within ATG. Similarly, to LeSS communities, ATG communities would be matrix/hierarchy – free and by-volunteering.

Please, note that ATG should strive to maximize a number of its own people (company’s employees) that uphold positions within a group (and its teams), with minimum reliance on external support.  If external support is used, external helpers should be cherry-picked individually and thoroughly, for their unique capabilities and expertise they bring to a table (for specialties and capabilities, see below), using high standards. Mass-engaging of consultants, individually, through staffing firms or large consulting companies, is strongly unadvisable.

Agile Transformation Team

For the purpose of this writing, each team within ATG is referred as Agile Transformation Team (herein, abbreviated, as ATT).  Here are a few recommendations about its purpose/focus, position and structure:

 >>Purpose/Focus:

The main purpose of ATT would be providing tailored support to various organizational areas, anywhere ATT is deployed. This includes training, consulting, coaching and mentoring to all/any organizational structures: technology, business, operations, support, HR, finance, legal, location strategies, etc. ATT’s activities, length and intensity of engagement, should be explicitly decided prior to engaging.  It, therefore, implies that each ATT would be capable to perform this function independently (see below).

Position:

Multiple ATTs would be a part of the same ATG. If LeSS framework is used as a guideline for ATG structure, then the following LeSS Structure rules would have to be followed for ATT:

  • Total of 50-60 (max 70) members within ATG
  • 2-8 ATTs per ATG

Note: The above numbers are based on the recommended number of people in Scrum (3-9), and are based on many experiments and research, collected over many years, with the focus on:  quality of communication intra- and  across teams, as well as communication between teams and Product Owner.

Given that the nature of ATT work would be different from what is typically delivered by LeSS teams (software product development), the above ranges, potentially, could be further experimented with: expanded or constrained, as needed.  For example, given that an average ATT size could be noticeably smaller than an average size of a team in LeSS, the range of 2-8 could be widened, experimentally, to keep the overall size of ATG, within the recommended range (50-60).

>>Structure:

Each ATT should consist of members that have multiple, overlapping and complimentary skills, with each person having deep expertise in one of the required domains, and some expertise in one or more additional domains. This approach would be consistent not only with LeSS but also with one-team Scrum.  Below, is the list of skills and capabilities, each ATT should possess, in order to be able to effectively handle any support request from an internal client:

  • Ability to engage at all/any phase: organizational assessment, training, consulting, coaching, mentoring
  • Possession of knowledge: frameworks, feedback loops, ability to recognize challenges, utilize organizational enablers, leverage agile and scaling/de-scaling principles, metrics
  • Competencies: facilitation, education (training), balancing (e.g. between coaching and consulting), assessing (e.g. between discovery and direction), catalysis
  • Specialties: organizational structure/culture/leadership, multi-team dynamics, technical excellence, user experience, marketing/sales, business/operations, HR, budgeting/finance, legal, location/site strategies

Note: Please, avoid diluting/reducing the importance of having the highest quality talent, as members of ATT/ATG.  Low quality experts will lead to low quality service, to your organization, and therefore, a loss of reputation, credibility and trust for ATT/ATG. Please, refer to the highest industry standards available (team-level, enterprise-level), when growing your own, internal, ATT/ATG expertise.

Depending on an initial assessment, you may require cross-functional team members, with various complimentary and overlapping skills, as per the above references.  The goal is to make sure that a self-formed & managed, long-lasting ATT, forms a strong relationship with an organization that it supports. Depending on the size of an organization (recipient of support) multiple ATTs may have to be deployed, in parallel: determining this number is a local decision.  All teams should have similar capabilities and skill set – just like in LeSS.

>> Self-Organization

Similar to LeSS, the aspect of self-organization would be critical, when creating effective ATTs, within ATG.  While defining strategic focus and purpose of ATG, consider also defining the most optimal, based on what you know at the time, blueprint for ATT: “what would an ideal team look like, to deliver maximum value to a customer”?  Based on this knowledge ATG may have to do additional tailored staffing.

Please, avoid using a traditional top-down managerial approach to build teams.  Instead, consider conducting a team self-design workshop, by referencing this publication, as a guide.

Engagement Example (Simple Use Case)

For the purpose of this writing, we shall take a look at how the above described LeSS-like ATG and its supporting ATTs, would support an organization that wants to adopt customer-focused, product-centric software development framework – Large Scale Scrum (LeSS). Metaphorically speaking, this situation could be described as: “forging a hammer with a hammer”:

A LeSS adoption (product development, itself), would involve:

  • LeSS Product Group
    • 50-60 developers (on average), grouped into 2-8 teams
    • Product Owner (one)
    • Scrum Masters (seasoned, capable of coaching between 1 and 3 teams)
    • “Undone Department” (remaining functions that did not make into the original Definition of Done)
  • Users/stakeholders and/or customers, expected to provide a supportive role to LeSS Product Group (details, clarifications)- from a few, to a few dozen people
  • Very importantly, executive management, HR, budgeting, legal, etc. – whose overarching support (in action) would be strongly required

As such, and this is based on the advice of multiple seasoned LeSS adoption experts (coaches, trainers), there will be at least one, or more, ATTs needed, to support a LeSS organization.  This would include:

  • Educating/advising executive management on organizational design implications of LeSS adoption
  • Training/coaching teams and team members on inter-and intra- teams’ dynamics, including LeSS roles, events and artifacts
  • Wide gamut of engineering practices: TDD, ATDD, BDD, CI/CD, unit testing, branching/merging strategies, unit testing, test automation, etc.

Conclusion

Please, remember that every organization wishes to see a great role model in the face of its own agile transformation group (referred as ATG, in this writing).  If ATG is lean, nimble, adaptive and has great internal dynamics, then there is a much higher chance that the rest of an organization would be motivated to follow ATG’s footsteps.

But the opposite is also true: if ATG’s structure is cumbersome, bureaucratic, with silos, redundancies and internal competition,  it will not be too successful in its efforts, will eventually lose credibility and reputation with the rest on an organization, and therefore, will not succeed in leading an agile transformation.

 

Candid, Unscripted Conversation About SAFe, with Tom Mellor (CST)



I (Gene here) had the pleasure of having a candid, unscripted Conversation About SAFe, with Tom Mellor – one of the early days’ Certified Scrum Trainers (CST).  Tom openly shared some of his personal knowledge and views about SAFe, much of which was based on Tom’s many years in the industry experience and the privilege of personally knowing early agile adopters. We tried to keep our conversation as objective and as unbiased as possible.

The topics we discussed:

  • SAFe history
  • SAFe relevance to RUP
  • SAFe relevance to Scrum and agile
  • Overall market success/brilliance of SAFe
  • SAFe strategic alignment with tooling companies
  • SAFe, as a framework of choice by large consultancies (“Why?”)
  • Economics of SAFe adoption: client companies vs. SAFe

LeSS Talks: May 22: Darwin Theory of Agile Coaching Evolution, with Ron Whitebread



Learn how one company iterated on their coaching approach – from experimentation to big consulting “transformation” to systems thinking enablement (transitioning from being supported by one of Big 5 consultancy companies, with their “push agile” model,  to a reputable, boutique agile coaching and training company) – to become more effective in achieving desired outcomes, what pain points each approach was trying to address, and how to become more relevant to the business side of Agility.

Understand how three different ecosystems played into how our focus and approach kept evolving to fit the prevailing context of that period – the environment, goals, pros/cons and reflection on those outcomes for each approach used.

Ask About LeSS Training & Coaching

03/14 – LeSS Talks: Johanna Rothman: How To Create a Career Ladder for Vertical and Lateral Movement



Materials

Johanna Rothman’s monthly newsletter “Pragmatic Manager” and her blogs can be found at www.jrothman.com and www.createadaptablelife.com


Additional Assets Relevant to the Topic:

Gap Between Science and Business
OKR: Narrowing the gap between “O” AND “KR”


Additional Learning Assets:

 

Changing Your Coaching Engagement Type



From Independent Coach  To Coach – FTE

Imagine yourself: you – for many years, investing into and developing your own career path, as an independent, professional coach.  You have years of experience behind your back, serving many different companies, many personal accomplishments, highest (and rarest) industry credentials, tens of thousands of community followers around the globe and lots of industry recognition, coming from the most recognized industry leaders.  Now, you are at the point in your life, when you still have enough energy to continue doing what you have been doing.  However, you come across, what seems to be, a great opportunity: you can join a great team, at a great company and work with some great people – as a full-time employee.  What do you do?  What do you need to consider, when deciding if such transition is a good idea for you?

Organizational Alignment

Initial Reporting Alignment: At the time of on-boarding, you want to make sure that you are positioned, organizationally (reporting-wise), in a way that will provide full backing and support to you, your profession/role and line of work.  It implies that your line management understands really well the essence of your role, as it is defined, according to the highest industry standards (could be different from an internal definition).

Reporting Alignment Over Time:  Organizational structures tend to change: re-orgs, down-sizing, strategic realignments. Although it is impossible to predict what exact changes may take place, it is important to inquire about any known plans for such changes for a foreseeable future, at the time of on-boarding.

Becoming a Report-Into Person:  One of the key conditions for being an effective coach is your ability to create a safety space around yourself: for your coachees, as well as junior colleagues that might be looking up to you, as a role model.  If you become a manager of other people, they will perceive you differently and your coaching relationship with them will most likely change.  It is strongly unadvisable for a coach, to take on a managerial role, at least, in the area, where coaching will take place. 

Focus of work

General Expectations: To an extent possible, try to discuss upfront what an organization will be expecting from you, as a coach, once you join it full time.  Will your role and responsibilities be consistent with your own understanding of what a coach should/should not do, as per well-defined industry standards?  How much of an impact will “staff augmentation” factor have on you?  Will there be any gap between what is expected of you as a coach (and related activities: consulting, training, mentoring) and other responsibilities you may have (a.k.a. conditions of employment)? Do you foresee any conflict of interest between multiple roles assigned to you?

Opportunity to Deliver Unique Value: How well is an organization aware of your unique coaching/coaching-related capabilities (e.g. trainer, mentor) that you bring to the table?  Will it see value in quality and authenticity of learning and education that you bring?  It is very likely that what you bring to the table is a significant extension to what an organization has today: if you don’t explicitly explain this, they will not know. 

Exemptions and pre-clearance

As an independent professional coach, over many years, you have made a lot of investment in your personal growth.  How much of this personal investment would you have to surrender, if you join a company, as a full-time employee?

Community Support: You spearhead local and global virtual communities, run public events, present at seminars and webinars, speak at conferences. For many years, this has been a huge part of your professional growth, as coach and the requirement to achieve and maintain your unique coaching credentials.  Will your new employer demand that you stop your activities?  Will it require a tedious approval process to continue each individual activity?

Blogging, Publishing, Audio/Video Recording:  You love giving back to a community. Over many years, you have written many articles, published and co-published books, have recorded podcasts and educational videos.  Will your new employer demand that you stop your activities?  Will it require a tedious approval process to continue each individual activity?

Outside Business Activities:  As a professional coach (also, trainer and mentor), you have unique capabilities to deliver coaching/mentoring/training content to general public – and it is in high demand.  You have built your own curriculums and intellectual property (lots of it is under creative commons) and this enables you to deliver your unique content. Teaching online classes and running mentoring cohorts is a part of your annual income.  Will your new employer demand that you stop your activities?  Will it require a tedious approval process to continue each individual activity?

Important: It is important that you discuss the above with your potential employer prior to on-boarding.  It is also critical that you make it very explicit that none of the above activities will be at expense of your paid work (focus, quality) that you will be expected to do for your employer. You must also make it very explicit that you will not be using any of your employer’s intellectual property or proprietary information, while engaging in outside activities.  Inquire, if you can receive in writing a one-time blanket exemption that will allow you to continue performing the above activities.

Compensation & Benefits

Base compensation: At the time of onboarding, explicitly discuss your base compensation that takes into account not only your current income that you generate as an independent coach but also the fact that your internal growth, and therefore, base compensation increase, might be different from that of a traditional employee.  Today, many traditional organizations still set employee compensation, based on how many people report into a person. As a coach, most likely you will have no people reporting into you, as his is inconsistent with how a coach should be positioned organizationally and relate to other people (see above).

Subjective compensation: Today, many companies still have subjective monetary incentives/bonuses, as a part of overall compensation structure. “How much of an overall compensation is represented by a bonus?” – it varies from industry to industry.  Many companies still pay bonuses, based on individual performance of an employee.  (Side note, as a coach, you may have to deal/challenge some of these existing organizational norms, as a part of your job.)  On a personal front, since you are a coach, all/most of your deliverables will be soft and not easy to measure (standard metrics don’t apply).  Therefore, you want to make sure that you are comfortable with your base compensation, so that if there are any omissions/shortcomings with your year-end bonus, the financial impact to you is minimal.  Ideally, you want to be less reliant on a subjective bonus, as a part of your overall compensation (“have the question of discretionary moneys removed from the table”, as per Daniel Pink)

Stock options:  You should inquire about common and/or restricted stock options.  Make sure you also find out about how equities are vested.  Some companies, may offer a stock, as a part of your retirement (see below) or bonus (see above) but under conditions that you remain employed with an organization for a certain number of years.

Pension & Retirement: This is usually standard for all employees: 401(K), annuities, other. Make sure you inquire about matching policies.

Health benefits: This is usually standard for all employees: medical, dental, other special coverage.  Make sure you inquire about who is a medical carrier(s), availability of family coverage, cost of premiums, deductibles.

 

From Coach – FTE To Independent Coach

Imagine yourself: You have been an employee with the same, or a few, reputable companies, for a number of years, as an internal coach.  You have learned a lot about internal organizational dynamics, structure, culture. You have reached a certain point in your career, where you feel that you would like to become an independent coach and explore other opportunities.  What do you do?  What do you need to consider, when deciding if such transition is a good idea for you?

Financial Cushioning: As you enter the world of independency, the first thing you must think about is how you will generate income.  Your income flow may not always be steady, there could be gaps between your engagements.  In consulting work, it is to be expected.  However, before disengaging from your employer you should either line up a few clients (at, least, short-term) or have enough financial cushioning (savings) to get you through the initial phase of being independent.

Your Personal Capabilities: As you become an independent coach, be also prepared to become your own boss, and a ‘jack of all trades’.  Your responsibilities may now include: extensive networking and business development, community service (public speaking, presenting, newsletter, etc.), becoming incorporated, purchasing general liability/other insurance coverage and other logistics.

Pipeline of Clients: As you enter the world of independency, you will have to learn how to balance between delivering quality work to your clients and developing your own ‘book of business’, for future engagements. This may require a very effective time and WIP management.  Consider going back to your past employer(s) and ask for referrals or ‘follow’ other exiting employees to their new places of work – and offer your services there.

Network and Public Visibility: As an independent coach, you will have to significantly step up your networking efforts (LinkedIn, Meetup, personal web site, presentations, podcasts, webinars) and increase your public visibility.

Uniqueness of Your Current Value: Today, the coaching market is significantly diluted. Over the last few years, many people with “used-to-be” roles have renamed themselves into coaches.  The current market supply of coaches is artificially inflated with professionals of low quality.  Unfortunately, majority of organizations are still not good at seeing a distinction between a great coach and a coach-pretender.  How do you envision positioning yourself, so that you stand out and draw clients’ attention to yourself?

Pursuit of Unique Credentials:  Just like the industry is flooded with coaches-pretenders, it is flooded with various certifications.  Be careful about certifications: not all of them come from authentic and reputable organizations; some of them are not even legit.  However, there are some unique, guide-level (elevated) credentials from more reputable organizations- industry leaders that can really add a notch on your professional belt. Consider pursuing those for your coaching and training credentials.

Opportunities for Partnership: You may wish to consider looking for people like yourself, independent, energetic individuals that have professional assets that complimentary to yours (personal certifications, training/coaching/certification capabilities, sales/marketing/networking skills). Consider forming a team. You don’t necessarily nave to be legally bound for such partnership.  Alternatively, you may consider sub-contracting through another larger and more established consulting organization (please, be careful with your choice, as not every big consultancy has a great reputation), while developing your own book of business and clientele.

Overall Business Plan:  You may wish to create a dynamic business plan, with short- and long-term goals for your business and professional development.  Please note, that these two are not the same: you don’t want to excel in one dimension at expense of another dimension. Another words, you want to stay balanced. Otherwise, you may end up being temporarily in high demand (e.g. due to great sales and marketing techniques) but underqualified or being in low demand (underutilized) but over-qualified.


Please, weight all pros and cons in all of the above dimensions, for both types of transitions and extend your research further, if required, before you make a decision.

02/27 – LeSS Talks: Facilitating LeSS events virtually (using Miro, Mural)




Facilitating LeSS events virtually (Ideas, Tips & Tricks)

Tools and platforms shared in the session:

Additional Self-Study Assets:

Use of Velocity in Complex Organizational Settings

LeSS Scrum Master David Nielsen and I have discussed system dynamics in complex organizational settings, with respect to Velocity, produced by a single team and/or multiple teams.  We did only one cut (no dress rehearsals, dry runs or editing).
The following system variables were identified and their cause & effect relationship was ‘unpacked’:
  • Ability to use Velocity as a metric
  • Degree, to which combined velocity from multiple teams can be used as a measurement
  • Effectiveness of team’s estimation techniques
  • Likelihood that Customer/Product-centric development is valued, by business and the whole organization
  • Dependency on traditional organizational structure and protection of a status quo of component managers
  • Dependency on complex frameworks, processes
  • Degree of measurement dysfunction

As well as a few helpful proxy-variables to ‘glue’ the model together.

Download System Model (CLD)

Please, also refer to the following page on System Thinking, to make the best of the video and the model.

01/15-LeSS Talks: System Modelling in LeSS with Robin Hyman


Miro Board Export

Relevant References:
Additional STRUCTURED LEARNING Learning Assets:

01/10-LeSS Talks: Lead and Serve Others: Focus on the Team, Not Individuals, by Johanna Rothman

 

Materials | Live Chat Transcript

A very relevant resource: Gap Between Science and Business

Additional Learning Assets: