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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Partners in Agile - Pair Coaching

As an Agile Coach I need to provide good coverage with large adoptions as well as appeal to or connect with different personalities so I can help guide the client to success in Agile.

Most of the adoptions, implementations, and transformations (there's a difference between all those) I have worked on have been solo gigs for me.

This last gig two of us were brought in to work together with this client after the group had a particularly strained experience with coaching. We realized right off the bat we'd need to walk very softly and coach where each individual and team were at the moment we interacted with them rather than try to round everyone up and create a baseline or offer something they'd already done. One example, no training; we couldn't use the word. We had to figure out how to train them without telling them we were training them.

This was something we were both interested in doing as it was outside our norm and luckily we were both of the same mind--any new experiences for us are good. It makes us better coaches in the long run, pulling us out of our comfortable groove. It put us very much on par with our client. Except that we had faith in Agile and the client was starting to lose that faith; if they'd ever had it.

Initially, because it was such a large group we tried bringing in two other coaches to help with the load and ensure we met the client's timeline. Unfortunately, they were not a good fit for where the client was and could not adapt themselves to coaching in the moment.

And I'll admit, after hearing the stories of the coaching experience this client had, we were wary. We didn't want to lose the client because another coach told them they had to do it the "right" way. So we scrapped that idea and forged ahead, just the two of us... and about 400 hundred people in multiple teams and units across the globe--who were not doing traditional software development. These were support, operations, and other internal end user service groups and teams.

At first, since we'd never worked together before, we chatted about what to do, when, and how, and checked in with each other before doing something with a team or individual. We had a stand up every day to assess where we felt the group was and what they needed. Very soon however, we didn't have time for those formal scheduled stand ups and ended up having informal debriefings with each other at the end of each day--standing in the parking lot.

Eventually, we found a way when passing in the hall or stopping for lunch to pass on information to each other about a team or individual who might need focused coaching from the other as we felt the personalities didn't mesh or they needed something the other had a better handle on or more experience.

We learned what our strengths were through each other's eyes (not always what we thought they were), supported one another when we felt frustrated, and celebrated our successes with high fives and little happy dances, and generally became better coaches.

Because sometimes two coaches are better than one. We were likened to yin and yang. We complemented one another and were truly in flow when working together. I'm much more a planner and my partner is a doer. He doesn't need to think too much about what he's going to do or say and just let's it happen in the moment. I felt a little like we were walking a tight rope with no net underneath the first few times we did this. But I got used to it and eventually liked it.

Now I'm much better at flying by the seat of my pants; his forte. I learned to trust myself more and because my coaching partner had such faith in my ability I did too. He was also great at making me feel I had done well when trying something new.

I supported him when he took flyers and eventually realized that I was helping him because he wasn't always sure either. For example, he made up a new activity for one group that was suffering several maladies, including lack of immediate leadership, and feeling lost. It worked and not only did the team love it but the VP of that group did too. My partner told me later, he wasn't sure it would work but it came to him that we needed a way to help them break the hierarchical logjam without using the term stand up which this team wouldn't do.

We hosted sessions locally and globally, in person and via teleconference, without a script, and invariably got rave reviews for our mingling of experiences, stories, examples, and approaches. Many people thought we'd worked together a long time to achieve the ease and close collaboration we exhibited.

It was truly a perfect storm of unique backgrounds, cultures of origin, specialties and strengths, and it energized the people we worked with helping them to find success in adopting Agile practices and concepts.

It was the best gig I've had to date. My only regret is that we can't pair up on every contract.

My sincere hope is that I can find other coaches with whom I can pair and find something similar in my upcoming opportunities.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Owning My Imposter Syndrome

As an Agile Coach I need to be confident in leading, teaching, and mentoring people so my clients will trust me and feel comfortable when I ask them to take the risk of changing.

I have imposter syndrome

There, I said it. Well, I wrote it.

Here's how bad my case is: I wrote a post a few weeks back where I was going to say I suffered from the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect--which according to Wikipedia iscognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is--but I didn't write that because I didn't want people thinking that I thought I was smart. 

Another example? I didn't want to use the word syndrome in this post but the less diagnostic term experience; because syndrome sounds like a big deal and I'm not important enough.  

One more: I attended a coaching summit recently; I was so excited to meet other coaches. After nearly two years of solo coaching I really needed to find a tribe. They had a session on imposter syndrome and I didn't go because I was worried they'd find out I wasn't as good or experienced as them. Really.

Yeah, that's a bad case. Sometimes crippling. I know; I struggle with it every day.

I did not grow up confident or with a good sense of self. I was told overtly and covertly for all of my childhood and young adulthood that I was less than, not smart enough, and just generally a burden.

I won't go into detail, but my home life was not conducive to me learning that I had value as a person. I was not valued; in fact I was aggressively devalued--physically, mentally and emotionally.

This was reinforced at school; teachers in the STEM classes (all male) told me that I didn't need to worry about my C grade in math or science because I was a girl and wouldn't need that knowledge.

As soon as I finished high school, I got married and had my daughter. I was 18 and truly believed that was the totality of my destiny. But my hope was that this amazing thing I had done, creating a whole other human being, would confer on me some credibility.

Then I started in the adult world of work as a receptionist and secretary. Every day I was surrounded by men who felt it was their duty to tell me that I should or shouldn't dress a certain way, how much I should weigh, what I should eat when out to lunch, when I could or couldn't speak and what to say and how, what choice of perfume or fragrance was acceptable, and that my input on anything was not welcome; but that I should smile more often as I was so much prettier when I did.

I changed the way I dressed, what I ate, my language, my volume, all of my communications--verbal and non-verbal. And I got along in that world. I learned which men would allow more of the real me to participate and those who expected the 'seen but not heard' version; and I watched, listened, and learned. 

I believed them when they said I could not work on computers unless I had a degree and tried to attend college part time, while working full time and being a mother to a toddler. It didn't work out for me and though I still sometimes wish it had, it did set me down a path of largely self taught, hard won knowledge and enlightenment.

I don't want this to sound like a diatribe against the patriarchy; it's not. But it is my story. And my story also includes many men and women who lifted me up and supported me and helped me and accepted me. They are why I'm here and haven't given up.

Though my confidence built as I stretched to try new things and I was supported by friends and colleagues, I always had this little voice in my head telling me that I should be careful, that I was not really in their league and they might find out; or worse they knew but were being nice and if I overstepped they might decide to stop.

I've long had cognitive dissonance; I feel like a fraud, but am aware that I am really good at what I do, and I like doing it. So I get up every day and forge ahead acting like a confident, experienced and knowledgeable person... because I am. Even though the voice is there all day long, every day.

My colleagues have encouraged me to speak at conferences and I always said I don't have anything to say that people want to hear. They tell me I should write a book and I say I don't have anything new to add to the conversation; what I did or how I did it isn't unique. (I only moved to another country and lived there for nearly two years while handling a transformation in a different culture for about 200 people by myself... and was successful.)

I short change myself and in doing so probably short change others. (I say as my inner voice says, Ummm, probably not.)

It's not easy but the fact that I am aware of it and actively work at dispelling the voice, and have discovered that so many other people feel the same way means I can be honest and sincere about who I am and my own fears when working with people.

Which, it turns out, is the best way to build the relationship necessary to guide people in the change to an Agile environment; which effects not only their work but hopefully their personal lives too. Because if we're building true, open, honest relationships how can it not?

Which doesn't mean I talk about or share all this personal information with my clients; I don't. (I realize I now have a fear that my contract opportunities will dwindle with publication of this post.)

But my new mantra is to take risks. I learned to scuba dive while in the Philippines, a risk I would not normally ever have taken... ever. Right up there with moving to a foreign country. And flying, which used to scare the absolute bejeezus out of me. Now I jump out of airplanes and drag my husband cross country for concerts with a band I am Deadheading over (Imagine Dragons).

So I'll keep repeating to myself I am not a fraud, and actively seek ways to validate that. I spoke at an Agile conference this year and survived it unscathed. In fact, people thanked me for the honest approach and information. So I am submitting my talk for next year's round of conferences.

I've resurrected this blog and made a promise to myself to let it go wherever it wants as long as I can tie it in with my work as a coach.

Maybe I will write that book.

I'm not sure if the voice will ever go away, but I'll use it to my advantage and create honest, truthful interactions with people who have their own internal voices so we can build workplace environments that are successful for everyone; employer, employee and customer.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Why I am an Agile Coach

As an Agile Coach I need to share my origins and motivations with people so they can understand why I do what I do and we can build the relationships necessary to be successful.

When I first started working in the world of software development I was enamored of the idea that computers would make our lives easier; in addition to that it was just so stinkin' sci fi awesome to be working with computers and networks. Of course this was in the late 80s and early days for personal computers, though not my latent geekiness.

This was around the time when I worked for a "baby Bell" spin off, US West; they were busy creating the first of what has now become the worldwide ATM banking network. Interesting and exciting times for a 20-something girl.

Fast forward to today, 30+ years later and I am now an Agile Coach. Having held nearly every position in software development I have unique experience to aid me in coaching teams in their transformation. I have been in their shoes, or worked closely with someone who has, and can help them see how things can be different as well as what the benefit is to moving toward Agile practices and concepts.

My time as a project manager in particular was illuminating, if also frustrating. You can not pay me enough to go back to the days of spending hours on a MS Project file, with associated Gantt charts, guessing and tweaking those guesses to try to fit all the work into a timeline and budget that were completely out of sync with the ask. And don't even get me started on trying to make those plans work in the real world.

That's what I love about Agile. We don't say 'no', we just say here is how much we can get done with that much money and/or in that time frame. What do you want first? If necessary we may have to ask questions like, 'what can you live without?' But by that time, we should have delivered something that has made our customer happy and the question usually goes down much easier especially since the work in question is probably not something they want anymore anyway.

I believe my time as a wife and parent has also shaped much of my approach as a coach. My negotiation skills, honed over 28 years of marriage, are super useful when I need to get managers to loosen the reins a little bit, which requires that they trust me enough and are willing, and you don't get there with a simple please.

Similarly, many times I have had to stand by and watch teams fail at something because they needed to learn on their own. Early in my coaching, I had much difficulty with that. It's become easier and I believe it helps build much stronger more cohesive teams by allowing them this opportunity.

Getting to meet new people, learn about different cultures (both organizational and geographic), build relationships with people I might never have otherwise interacted with--enriching my life and theirs--are all part of the gig.

I love what I do and I think that makes me better at it too. It's a little like switching a light on for people who have been in the dark for a long time. Seeing their faces light up and the energy flow when they realize how much easier their life has become and how much more joy they have in their day is pretty special.

I truly believe so much of what we teach in Agile is humanity. People first. Work together. Talk. Agree. Compromise. Work hard. Play hard. Have fun. Get stuff done. Spread joy.

That's why I am an Agile Coach.