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I am still traveling for the next two weeks. The trip is a mixture of vacation and a board meeting but that does not mean you will have to forego your weekly SPaMCAST.  In place of our normal format, I am posting a mix tape of the answers to the “If you could change two things” question I have been asking interviewees for nearly ten years.  This week on SPaMCAST 392 we feature our top downloaded podcasts from the year 2009:

SPaMCAST 51 – Tim Lister on Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies

Tim discussed ending the estimating charade.  Tim stated it would be better if we recognized estimating as goal setting. Secondly, he noted that a lot of outsourcing has overshot its mark and reduced our organizational capabilities.

SPaMCAST 67 – Murali Chemuturi on Software Estimation Best Practices, Tools & Techniques

Murali used his wishes to state that estimators need a better grasp and understanding the concepts of productivity and scheduling.

SPaMCAST 69 – Kevin Brennan on Business Analysis

Kevin answered a different question and discussed the message he would share with a C-Level executive to describe why business analysis is important to them.

If you enjoyed the snippets please use the links to listen to the whole interviews.  Next week 2010!

A coach is much like a honey bee...

A coach is much like a honey bee…

I strongly believe that coaches are not managers or Scrum Masters.  Coaches are a unique mixture of attributes, including being a listener, a learner, a mediator and an evangelist. A deficit in any these attributes will reduce a coach’s effectiveness.

A good coach is a listener.  A coach listens by making a conscious effort to hear not only the words that the other person is saying but, more importantly, trying to understand the complete message being sent. A coach listens to obtain information, to understand and to learn.

A good coach is a learner.  There are two related reasons that being a learner is important.  Agile is continually evolving, therefore the value of what you know now will erode quickly. Secondly, a coach is much like a honey bee, transferring ideas and techniques from one project or organization to another. A coach must actively seek out and learn new techniques and concepts to pollinate new teams and organizations. Without the ability to continually learn, the utility a coach can provide will also erode.

A good coach is a mediator. Conflict that leads to decisions is part and parcel of team life.  Sometimes these decisions and interactions are hard.  A coach plays the role of a mediator who facilitates negotiation to help team members reach a mutually satisfactory solution to their problems, without compulsion. Coaches that can’t mediate tend to revert to management compulsion, which will not only reduce the effectiveness of the coach, but may also injure the team.

 A good coach has to be an evangelist. Lean and Agile focus on only doing the work that delivers business value. Helping a team or an organization embrace Agile techniques effectively means personally embracing and helping the organization embrace the underlying philosophy of Agile.  A coach needs believe in the philosophy so that they can champion and shepherd the journey along the “new way.”  Not being willing to evangelize for the underlying philosophies of Agile will lead to crappy Agile.

Each of the attributes of a good coach – listening, learning, mediation and evangelism – are all required.  Deficits in any will hurt the coaches ability to coach and will reduce the effectiveness of the team.  The attributes that good coaches acquire and foster will increase the ability of teams and organizations ability to deliver value.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat’s the difference between an Agile coach and a scrum master? A quick internet search returns a variety of competing opinions (and a lot of ads for training classes).  This is not an arbitrary question – these terms have a great deal of power to set expectations for behavior. While some of the components of the roles are similar, the two roles are different in at least one major way –  scope.

Both Agile coaches and scrum masters help teams.  Both roles are tasked with helping Agile teams use Agile values and practices to deliver value to the organization.  Agile coaches and scrum masters use similar techniques to guide, facilitate, and coach teams so that they learn and use Agile techniques, confront delivery problems as they occur, and work together as a well-oiled unit.  If we stopped here the two roles would be the same. However, the scope of the two roles is different.

Agile coaches typically pursue the implementation of an organizational vision of Agile, or are tasked with delivering external knowledge and expertise to a team.  In both cases the coach is external and is not a member any specific project team. In order to effect change from the outside the project, the coach needs a broader exposure to Agile roles than a typical scrum master.  A coach should have played all of roles on an Agile team multiple times. They have the gravitas to influence without direct authority and from outside the team. They interact with a team or teams, and then let the team synthesize and internalize the advice. The Agile coach is typically the voice of Agile at an organizational level.  This generally requires broader exposure and experience with Agile techniques, which is why many organizations use external consultants to play this role. The need for an Agile coach is generally transitory, specifically they are needed when external injections of knowledge or energy is necessary to help ensure the application of Agile continues to evolve.

On the other hand, the scrum master is the team’s tactical coach (scrum defines the team as the scrum master, product owner and the development team). He/she facilitates the team’s use of Agile techniques and helps to protect the team from the outside world. Scrum masters are the voice of the process at the team level.  Scrum masters are a critical member of every Agile team. The team’s need for a scrum master is not transitory because they evolve together as a team.

The role of an Agile coach and that of scrum master have similarities, but also significant differences.


Are you a coach or a manager? Most traditional, hierarchical IT organizations use managers to plan, organize and control work. Managers make decisions with greater or lesser collaboration, based on their management style. A coach is a different thing entirely. Coaches exist to assist a team to reach its full potential. In the world of empowered employees and self-managed teams, a coach is an enabler, a guide, and a leader.

A coach enables her team by suggesting areas for self-improvement, ideas for using tools and techniques and facilities improving team. The goal of coaching is to help the team become more effective in delivering value to the organization. The act of coaching requires the ability to interact and facilitate both how individuals and groups work within the team.

When a coach provides guidance, they are using their gravitas to influence the direction of the team. In organizations that rely on control environments, the manager will tell the team the correct direction with the expectation that telling and doing are sequential acts. A coach provides direction and uses her influence to get the team to internalize that direction. The internalized direction may well reflect a synthesis of the team’s knowledge and the coach’s advice.

The ability to enable and guide is a function of being a leader. Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement 2.0, defines leadership as “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” The definition does not include the primary tenants of the definition of a manager, control and positional authority, but rather is focused on getting the most from the team through influence.

A coach is a guide and a leader. These attributes are inter-related and self-reinforcing. A coach rarely needs to leverage the techniques of a manager – planning, organizing and directing – rather they rely on influence and team peer-pressure. Are you a manager or a coach? The distinction is stark. Is your role to help the team maximize its value through a process of facilitation? If the answer is yes, then you are a coach.

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The first full Software Process and Measurement Cast posted on January 29th, 2007.  When the first cast posted we were on an every other week schedule whereas today we post weekly.  Over the next few weeks, I will be traveling.  The trip is a mixture of vacation and a board meeting but that does not mean you will have to forego your weekly SPaMCAST.  In place of our normal format, I will post a mixtape of the answers to the “If you could change two things” question I have been asking interviewees for nearly ten years.

SPaMCAST 391 will feature our top downloaded podcasts from the years of 2007 and 2008:

SPaMCAST 2 – Will McKnight on Process and Product Quality Assurance

Will used his wishes to talk about the need for an organizational process focus and the guidance to sustain process improvement.

SPaMCAST 4 – Stasia Iwanicki on Six Sigma

Stasia used her first wish to address requirements capture, development, and management.  Her second wish was for better measurement for supporting the software development process.

SPaMCAST 49 – Robin Goldsmith on Requirements

Robin used his wishes to discuss the need to capture and validate the real business requirements which lead to better systems.

If you enjoyed the snippets please use the links to listen to the whole interviews.  Next week 2009!

Preparing for a Daily Stand Up

Preparing for a Daily Stand Up

**The Re-Read of Commitment: A Novel About Managing Project Risk will resume when I get back from vacation in May. In the meantime, please enjoy this rerun.**


The daily stand-up meeting is the easiest Agile practice to adopt and the easiest to get wrong.  In order to get it right, we need to understand the basic process and the most common variants. These include interacting with task lists/boards and distributed team members. The basic process is blindingly simple.

  • The team gathers on a daily basis.
  • Each team member answers three basic questions:
    • What tasks did I complete since the last meeting;
    • What tasks do I intend to complete before the next meeting, and
    • What are the issues blocking my progress.
  • The meeting ends, team members return to work OR discuss other items.


The more complex the door, the lower the 'door' productivity.

The more complex the door, the lower the ‘door’ productivity – but not always.

While productivity is a simple calculation, there are a few mistakes organizations tend to make.  The five most common mistakes reduce the usefulness of measuring productivity, or worse can cause organizations to make poor decisions based on bad numbers.  The five most common usage and calculation mistakes are: (more…)


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