Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

Currently Consuming
  • The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    by Eric Ries
  • The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    by Daniel Coyle
  • Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    by Ron Chernow

Paul Tevis

Entries in coaching (7)


I Just Hope We Don't Need A Cutman

My friend Judd has a phrase for days like today: Working the heavy bag.1

At work, I’m going through what is effectively my fourth Scrum team startup. I say “effectively” because while there is some continuity among those teams, there have been new people and technical changes. There have been enough of these that they’ve basically triggered a re-forming of the team each time. And each time we get a little better at it. This latest one is tricky though, because we’re running into some deeper cultural divides than we have in past, due to the differing backgrounds and organizations the team members come from. There are real problems here that we have to work through. I’m thankful to the team for pointing them out and keeping us from sweeping them them under the rug, as has happened so often in the past. This isn’t an exhibition match. What we’ve got here is a twelve-round title fight.

It is frustrating at times. My manager and I both got a bit punchy this afternoon due to the mental energy we’d expended trying to corral some of these issues. At points over the last few weeks, I’ve wished these problems would just go away. They’ve seemed to be too big, too difficult, too entrenched for me to handle. At times I feel like I’m just waiting for the bell so I can drop my gloves.

I’ve come to realize two things recently that help me to deal with this. First, I don’t have to have all the answers, and I don’t have to solve these problems alone. Yes, I’m the Scrum Master. I’m the keeper of process. I’m responsible for making sure we do Scrum and that we do it well. I’m also not the team, and these are team issues. It’s my job to put on my coaching hat and take these problems to the team. They need to own the solutions; I need to help them get there.2 It’s only partly my fight, and what the team really needs now is a good cornerman.

Second, this is what I signed up for, whether I realized it or not. The important thing is to dig in, pay attention, and fix things instead of wishing they were better. This is the work I’ve been wanting to do for years. If my arms are tired from punching, it’s because I haven’t been doing the right exercises. Now is the time to develop some new muscles.

1 Judd likes to work out, so many of his metaphors come from the gym.

2 And I should be getting help myself from my Product Owner and the rest of the management of the organization.


The Team Has The Answers

At Agile 2010, I had the good fortune to take part in several workshops with Lyssa Adkins. Her session on “Using Silent Work Techniques To Get Astonishing Results” helped me connect the improv and Agile parts of my brain. The Thirty-Five technique1 she taught us in a Open Jam paid immediate dividends when I used it in our retrospectives in Switzerland. Her insights in Gil Broza and David Spann’s workshop on “The Curious, Present, and Empathetic Agile Coach” made me aware of the kinds of skills I want to develop. So I was happy that by early December I was able to clear my decks enough to read her book.

Coaching Agile Teams: A Guide for Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition has at its core a simple idea: “Take it to the team.” Like all simple and powerful ideas, it’s harder to do, especially when it requires overcoming existing habits and instincts. While I don’t have decades of experience as a command-and-control-style project manager, I still do things that get in the way of the team’s self-organization. Thankfully, the first section of the book deals with exactly this, pointing out that coaching starts with you; in order to master coaching, you first have to master yourself.

The core of the book is part two, which deals with what Lyssa has identified as the six skills sets Agile coaches need to develop in order to be successful: coaching-mentoring, facilitating, teaching, problem solving, conflict navigating, and collaboration conducting. Each of these chapters looks at the Agile coach from a different angle, examining what skills from related disciplines we can borrow to help our teams get more for themselves. Mixed in with this is a healthy dose of Scrum knowledge, ranging from observations on purposes of the Scrum meetings to advice on avoiding confusion about (and conflict between) the Product Owner, Agile Manager, and Agile Coach roles. As such, the chapters on facilitating and teaching make up one of the best resources I’ve seen for Scrum Masters, regardless of whether they consider themselves coaches. My favorite chapter focuses on the coach as “collaboration conductor.”2 The principles for fostering a collaborative environment presented here are clearly the tip of a fascinating iceberg, and the cited references are quickly climbing my “to read” list.3

The final section looks at the coaching trajectory, helping to assess where along it you are. Included are six first-person accounts of how current agile coaches got to where they are now, starting from very different places.4 The most useful chapter for me dealt with diagnosing common coaching failure modes and pointing out what success can look like. Agile coaching, like Agile itself, is a journey rather than a destination. Coaching Agile Teams is an excellent map of the terrain.

1 Which I recently discovered is a Thiagi invention.

2 Which should surprise no one who knows me.

3 Notably Artful Making, Teamwork Is An Individual Skill, Radical Collaboration, and Collaboration Explained.

4 One of them started from a place very much like my current situation, which certainly piqued my interest.

Page 1 2