Thursday, September 10, 2009

Agile 2009 - Day 1 - 24th August - Agile Coaches

During Monday morning, I was working as a volunteer at Registration. This wasn't as fun as bag stuffing for sure. No big innovations there. Just talking to people, handing bags and shirts. The only ironical part was to received about 6 new items we had to stuff into the bags DURING the morning.

For the afternoon, I attended two talks. The one I will be writing about in this post and Jim Highsmith's one about software quality that will be the focus of my next post.

"What Do Agile Coaches Do?" by Liz Sedley and Rachel Davies

Liz and Rachel started explaining that the session was based on the work they had done to their new book "Agile Coaching". They also pointed out the session was a workshop and that it was aimed to Carlos - internal coach (see the conference personas webpage to a better understanding).

Their first point was that coaching a software development team was not exactly like coaching a soccer team although the name is the same. It led them towards J. Richard Hackman's work. According to Liz and Rachel, Hackman's book named "Leading Teams - Setting the stage for great performances" out stands from other leadership books because it focuses in teams rather than individuals.
From this, they pointed out a couple things that are NOT coaching namely doing someone else's job and directing the team. In opposite, they explained that a coach should provide feedback, explain dynamics, provide suggestions and become useless (they called it: being transitional).
They explained Hackman divides possible coaching interventions in three groups:
  • Motivational intervention: one that tries to increase the effort of the team
  • Consultative intervention: one that attempts to improve the quality of the process
  • Educational intervention: one that aims to improve learning
This means that on a Motivational intervention, a coach would take an attitude that would try to have the team (or a member of the team) commit more with the work. That can be achieve by giving her more responsibility regarding that activities or making turning her into the reference or any other thing that would result in an increase of commitment.
On an Educational intervention, the coach would run an activity that could allow the team to a better understanding of what is happening and why. Retrospectives usually fit very well in Educational interventions because they make the team think about their situation and look for improvements therefore increasing their learning.
A Consultative intervention is one that the coach will apply to adjust the situation to a better one. This is the easiest intervention to make since it only requires that the coach have a suggestion of improvement and use its experience to solve the issue. The problem with it is that it does not helps the team become independent since the knowledge about why applying that solution stays with the coach. On the other hand, this is a very good solution when dealing with a team of novice people (or Shu people - see the Dreyfus learning model or the Shu-Ha-Ri model - I will post about both since there were talks about both) because it will show them one technique.

This introduction led us to the workshop itself. The room was split into groups of 3 or 4 people and Rachel and Liz handed over several Scenarios of problems in a team for each group so that the group would suggestion some coaching interventions to each scenario. The activity itself was quite interesting but, as most attendees in the session, I felt just having the division of interventions in 3 kinds was worth the session.
Most of the groups reached a fourth division that could be called "Introspection" that consists in any activity that might help understand the problem. Introspection interventions usually lead to Educational interventions from the own team opposed to Educational interventions from the coach (which might have run the Introspection intervention unknowing what the appropriate intervention was). One can argue that Introspection interventions are always performed before any other and therefore can be considered part of each intervention but the point here is that an introspection intervention may result in different sorts of intervention even if the problem is the same.

More information can be found in Liz and Rachel's slides.

I learned that classifying your actions according to Hackman's suggestion is very useful to self-analysis and to moderate the kind of actions you take. It can also help sharing experience between coaches and can probably be used in some behavioral studies related to cultural differences.

The next post will regard Jim Highsmith's "Zen and the Art of Software Quality" presentation. Please leave your comments here and there.

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