Reflections on Coaching and Leading Agility

November 12, 2014

Agile, Leadership

Furious George band getting project managers to dance

Furious George rocking the PMI LIM in Phoenix, AZ

When you are bringing together an Agile team, are you hiring rock stars or building bands? That was one of the many points in David Hussman‘s tutorial “Coaching and Leading Agility: Tuning Agile Practices” at Agile Development Conference East 2014.

Hussman blended his discussion on coaching techniques we can apply with our team at the same time as coaching us on the challenges the group identified at the beginning of the session. The result was validation on the various things each of us were already doing well mixed with tips and tricks to take back to the office along with some “ah-ha” moments on areas that need more thought and learning. Coming from a very product-oriented industry, two of the significant “ah-ha” moments for me were on understanding product thinking and on discovery vs. delivery.

One of the key points of the Agile Manifesto is the importance of working product and people over process and documentation. Yet, we still hear a lot about process, particularly from people and teams first learning Agile. Even for those of us who have been around Agile for a long time, we don’t talk enough about developing and applying product thinking beyond “Is it functional and bug-free?” There are some masters of product thinking in all of our industries. We should be learning more about how they think about their products, approach design and continuously review/iterate. In product thinking, the classic triple-constraint triangle becomes a Venn diagram where products live at the intersection of Valuable, Useful and Feasible. In a world where most project leaders struggle with scope, cost, and time, developing product thinking is a significant mind shift that is necessary in our modern world of constant product disruptions.

This leads to the importance of the distinction between discovery and delivery. Most messages around Agile are concerned with delivery. In business, we are trained to focus on delivery and at the end of the day it’s what gets product out the door. However, every product needs some time up front and throughout the entire development dedicated to discovery – understanding the bigger picture of what is being built. The output of that discovery process are the good user stories that are the right size for the team to run with them and deliver. As coaches, it is important to determine what is the minimum viable planning needed and how to flow from and between discovery and delivery.

As for the question at the beginning of this post, a great band will become rock stars who will be more than a one-hit wonder. In other words, the band is sustainable where a group of rock stars is a lot more fragile. The band in the photo, Furious George, is a popular cover band in the Phoenix area. Because they were a great band, they got a large group of project management leaders to cut loose, dance, and have a lot of fun. So, whenever I think about the rock stars vs. band question, I’ll think of them. They are a band who were certainly stars in our world that night!

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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2 Comments on “Reflections on Coaching and Leading Agility”

  1. agileselfie Says:

    Useful post. I am reblogging this.


  2. agileselfie Says:

    Reblogged this on agileselfie and commented:
    A useful post I came across.


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