Get ready for a candid conversation about transformation, leadership, and integrity with Erin Perry and JP White, Developer Relations specialists.
Get ready for a candid conversation about transformation, leadership, and integrity with Erin Perry and JP White, Developer Relations specialists.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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).
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:
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).
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Past events with Johanna Rothman @ LeSS NYC Meetup:
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
Today’s great presentation by Certified LeSS Trainer (CLT) from Israel – Elad Sofer. Please, contact Elad directly for an details.
“Agile transformations fail regularly, despite many putting their best efforts forth. And dominant focus continues to be on agile as a process, addressing the important need for an agile mindset and culture only in passing. While Agilists feel that someone’s mindset is absolutely critical to agility, the agile mindset is not actually defined anywhere. Even Steve Denning, in a May 2020 article, said, “is it possible that we in the Agile community have been putting too much emphasis on such an undefined and ambiguous term [mindset]?”
Please note: all system models are conditional and not conclusive. We model a system to have a conversation.
Additional recommended assets:
This writing is way past overdue. I have been putting this off for, at least, a few years. But it is better later than never😊.
Both of them: CEC and CTC – have been developed by the Scrum Alliance volunteers. The evolutionary path of both programs has been pretty long and full of experiments.
CEC came first. Some years ago (more than 10), what is called today as Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), used to be called Certified Scrum Coach (CSC). At one point, the decision was made to rename CSC into CEC, for a variety of reasons, with one (big factor) being that CEC was more descriptive of a coaching focus, since at this level, a person coached not only Scrum but much deeper and broader (organization, enterprise).
But it was not just changing the acronym, it was also a complete redesign of the program. What used to be a binary pass/fail outcome for an applicant (you submit, you wait for a while, you get a verdict), has evolved into a high-transparency, enriched with short feedback loops, multi-stage, iterative, full of learning and self-discovery, process. Some time, after CEC has been redesigned (around 2014), there also came CTC (about a year later, or so). The main reason for creating the CTC, as a separate program/credential (NB: I was one of the co-creators but more about this below), was that (multi-) team-level coaches, had somewhere different focus than enterprise coaches: CTCs are were focused on multiple teams, CECs were focused on the whole enterprise.
My journey has begun in 2010, about a year after I received my CSP credential. I applied for Certified Scrum Coach (CSC) – the old version of CEC. I was so confident that I would pass it with flying colors… Oh boy, was I wrong? I did not succeed. Looking at back now, I realize that the reason was two-fold:
Four (4), long years went by…
…Many more coaching gigs, many more read books and white papers, attended conferences, retreats and public events, tons of professional networking. I mentored others and was mentored by more seasoned people. I coached, as a part of my paid job and if someone just needed personal help – I would coach for free, one-on-one.
As an agile coach, I also came to terms with the fact that I am an organizational and team design agent, someone who needs to strive towards changing the ‘world of work’ (also, happens to be the motto of Scrum Alliance), not just coach for the sake of coaching.
In the early part of 2014 I learned that the old CSC program had been redesigned (the effort, spearheaded by Pete Behrens and Roger Brown, who later became my greatest mentors) into the new CEC program and a beta-group of coaches-aspirants-volunteers was required to become the first “explorers” to go through the experiment. Being a huge fan of experiments and having a gut feeling that the time was right, I volunteered immediately. As I recall it now, I was probably the only “scarred” applicant – someone who had experience with the old CSC program…
To make a long story short…it took me close to five months to go through the program. The hot summer of 2014 – it was me, spending many hours each week, reading, researching, writing and re-writing. From time to time, I would get a feedback or request for clarification from my reviewers. I would then jump on it, research it, study it and take another stab at the google document (by then, the application process was put online). I loved being a Guinea pig 😊. The amount of additional learning and self-discovery that I made, while working on my own application was just immense. It also felt, as if I almost relived all of my professional experience as a coach (by then I already had many years of coaching behind my belt). Along the way, I collaborated with other applicants, sharing our experiences and bouncing around ideas (of course, everyone’s application was filled out independently).
In October of 2014, I got notified by Scrum Alliance that I was granted the CEC credential. This was one of the most exciting moments in my professional career! It was truly a huge milestone for me. In fact, I was the very first beta-group applicant that made it through the newly redesigned CEC program. It was a triumph.
Although CEC never became an automatic “golden key” door-opener for me, earning the credential certainly gave me additional self-confidence and boosted my ego. I recall being asked by my clients and interviewers what Scrum Alliance *certified* enterprise coach meant and how it was different from “un”-certified. Those moments, were my best opportunities to talk about my professional journey and valuable assets that I bring to the table, as CEC. Some of my more open-minded clients admitted that what they considered as a ‘coach’ up until then, was not even near what a coach is/does.
Becoming CEC has put me in small group of elite-guide-level professionals with privileged access. I gained the privilege of joining closed discussion forums with Agile Manifesto co-signers and Scrum co-creators. Seeing them exchange and engage in hot debates, as well as being able to freely engage in any of those discussions on my own, was such a great asset. At times, just following a thread about Scrum, Kanban, organizational dynamics, scaling, product management, technical excellence, classroom dynamics, business aspect of public training – would enrich my personal knowledge by a factor.
Some time, after earning my CEC, I learned that the group of volunteers-CECs was pulled together to create the new Scrum Alliance certification-credential: Certified Team Coach (CTC). I volunteered myself and joined the group (Roger Brown was the leader). The purpose of our effort was to delineate between the two types of a coaching focus: enterprise and (multi-)team. After multiple years of research and discovery, it has become apparent that some coaches wish to focus on teams’ dynamics (e.g. multi-team PBR, multi-team Sprint Planning, Overall Retrospective), whereas others – on enterprise dynamics (HR policies, budgeting-finance, location strategies, vendor management, etc.). Please note, the above are not mutually exclusive.
Rightfully, some of the quantitative (and to some degree, qualitative) expectations from CEC were higher than those of CTC. However, just like the CEC, the CTC program was designed to be a very rigorous and challenging selection process, to identify guide-level, senior coaches.
In January of 2018, I also decided to gain my own CTC credential, since there were many instances in my career, when I had to coach at multi-team level. It also did not feel right for me NOT to have the credential, while being involved in its creation😊.
Today, I run my own mentoring program for people that wish to pursue the CTC or CEC credential. My focus is three-fold: advanced system thinking → improved coaching capabilities → application success.
One of the biggest aspirations throughout my entire coaching career was becoming a better system thinker-modeler – a person who could see and assess the whole organizational (eco-)system, not just its individual parts. In enterprise-wide and multi-team settings this skill is a must, at least in my opinion.
Right around the time when l did not succeed with my initial CSC application, I zoomed my focus onto lean and agile product development, at scale and in multi-site settings – something that most of my clients had interest in and trouble with. My attention was drawn to a series of books, written by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde (both later becoming my other great mentors), where they have covered many guides and experiments that I found very applicable in my work. Since then, I have applied much of my learning (today, a.k.a. Large Scale Scrum or LeSS), while coaching individuals, teams and organizations. I find LeSS education a significant asset to my own coaching journey (during and post- receiving the CEC and CTC credentials). Today, I am one of a few (worldwide) Certified Large Scale Scrum Trainers (CLT) – another very unique and valuable milestone in my career that is also very complimentary to being CEC-CTC.
The above is originally posted on my blog.
More about me and my work.