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Coaching Management

Part of my job is to help managers more effectively contribute to their Agile transformation. This sometimes means I coach them. Like all of my coaching, when I coach management I coach in the areas they themselves are willing to be coached in. So a natural question I have for them is, what would you like from me as a coach?

Many managers I coach are interested in learning how those who work for them are seeing the Agile transformation. They want to know where the gaps are in people's understanding and how they can help narrow those gaps.

For this kind of coaching engagement, I'll usually give management feedback on how well the people in their organization are understanding these five areas:

  1. How is Agile relevant to peoples' current projects and workload? Making sure that people in the organization are connecting the dots from their theoretical understanding of Agile to their day-to-day work is crucial if you want them to take action. People are quite naturally busy with their current work. Despite their good intentions, unless they can see the relevance of Agile to what they are working on right now, they won't be likely to take action one way or another with regards to Agile transformation. If that connection between Agile and their current work isn't getting made, management can help either by changing peoples' priorities to better align with the Agile goals they want for the org or by explicitly tying their desired Agile future to actions that need to be done right now to make it happen later.
  2. What's in it for the people in the organization? In other words, what aspects of the Agile transformation are relevant to peoples' rational self-interest? Management can help here by clarifying how Agile will make their employees' lives better. Frequently, I can provide management with insight into things that many people in the org want for themselves, so that management can tailor their message accordingly.
  3. How will people know they are succeeding? If people in the organization are unclear as to what success looks like, they won't be able to effectively self-organize around accomplishing the larger objectives of the Agile transformation. Management can help by sharing the concrete qualities and aspects of Agile success. The success criteria should be clearly both meaningful and valuable in themselves, avoiding the trap of doing Agile for Agile's sake.
  4. What tools and support are available? Agile transformation doesn't happen in a vacuum; the whole organization needs training, coaching, collaboration tools, time and space to experiment, user groups, dojos, books, and many other things if it wants to succeed with its change. Management can help by asking people what tools and support they could most use, then giving them what they need. Management also has a key role in publicizing the tools and support that are already available and encouraging people to use them.
  5. What are the next steps? Do people know specifically what management wants them to do with regards to Agile transformation? For example, if management wants people to sign up for a course, do people know which course they should sign up for, what website they need to visit to sign up for it, what charge number they should use for the course, who is or isn't exempt from attending the course, and so on? By providing people with the key details they need to get their work done, management can help reduce the friction involved by people having to re-figure out every detail for themselves, one at a time.

Many thanks to the members of the Agile Moose Herd and to the writing of Bill Jensen for helping me connect the ideas in this article.