This week, Chapter 7 of Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins. While observing and facilitating might be the most prolific coach activities, at times teaching takes front and center. As an experienced coach, I find myself slipping between different roles based on context. Teaching encompasses a wide range of behaviors, but the goal is always the same – to elevate the person or team you are teaching. Teachers are there to help PEOPLE to become better at something. My piano teacher in Waterloo, Iowa existed in my life to make me a better piano player, not a better dog walker or Agile Coach. In my role as coach-teacher, I have had to learn to focus on the immediate goal rather than possible knock-on effects. I recently sat in on conversations between two coaches that had been hired to a team test-driven development (TDD). Their sponsor wanted them to teach the team to have a more agile mindset under the guise of TDD. The goals are conflicting. To paraphrase a quote from Harry Potter, “they need to sort out their priorities.” In all teaching scenarios, clear and transparent priorities are critical to both building trust and success.

As with all coaching roles, context matters. For example, a new team (either new to agile or new to being a team) will need more formal training including team-building activities. Team building is in essence a teaching opportunity. I agree with the author on the need to teach values, principles, and mindset, even if everyone “knows” what agile is. Over the past few years, I have seen the coaching industry shift its focus to skills and techniques (both are important) while dropping the soft stuff. Translate soft stuff to values, principles, and mindset. A few years ago I had a CTO say, “don’t talk about principles anymore. We’ve all heard it enough. Just teach pair-programming.” All the while they were shifting team members at random and pushing working into teams. I am not sure we were on the same page on the principles thing. An overfocus on agile as a set of methods to do work at the expense of the soft stuff will generate an agile death spiral.

Coaches need to teach techniques in the context of values and principles. One of the plotting techniques the author uses in this book is to use a combination of Scum events and team states to highlight coaching techniques. For example, a coach will tend to apply a broader, more classic set of teaching events for a new team whereas they may pull a new person on a mature team to the whiteboard for “chalk talk.” I miss real chalkboards. One of the points hammered home in this book is that while activities like facilitating and training are continuous, the delivery varies based on context. This week I participated in delivering classroom training, pairing (we both ended up learning), and a discussion group on flow metrics.

Goals are an important component when teams are learning agile or a new technique. All teaching interactions must have an outcome-based goal as well as uplifting. Recent research suggests that “all behavior (even habits) must be goal driven is intuitively compelling.” While the science of goal-driven behavior is still evolving  (the article points out that it is difficult to test the negative hypothesis). As agile coaches, it is imperative that we craft goals that help teams and team members (at all levels).

No experiment for the coming week. The Software Process and Measurement Cast crew will be on hiatus for a few weeks hiking and generally re-charging. If we miss a week of Coaching Agile Teams, we will highlight an earlier re-read to entice you to continue to learn. Re-read Saturday is another form of training (I am an agile coach…I can’t help it) and learning for all.

Remember to buy a copy of  Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins (SPaMCAST Amazon affiliate line and read along!

Previous Installments

Week 1: Logistics and Introduction 

Week 2: Will I Be A Good Coach 

Week 3: Expect High Performance 

Week 4: Master Yourself 

Week 5: Let Your Style Change 

Week 6: Coach as Coach-Mentor 

Week 7: Coach as Facilitator