Gemba walks are a powerful tool for identifying improvements to how an organization does work. At the core of the technique is observation. Seeing provides a basis to compare how people are working to expectations or the process manual. Many change leaders state that change leader should not make changes until they have seen the process in action. In an even more radical approach, some have proponents of Gemba walks have suggested not discussing an issue unless they have observed it. Observation makes a Gemba walk work. Observation is a skill that requires preparation, structure, and practice to be repeatably effective. (more…)


Everyone should avail themselves of coaching and mentoring.  The question then is when you need a coach or a mentor.  A simple checklist will help the decision-making process, and at the same time help to make a clear distinction between what you should expect from a mentor or a coach.  The seven yes/no questions can be used to distinguish between whether you need a mentor or coach are: (more…)

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A good mentor can power up your career

Learning and growing is a requirement to excel in a career.  There are many paths to growth. Arguably many of the most successful among us work very hard and take advantage of every opportunity they can find for education, training, practice, coaching and mentoring.  Each mechanism used to acquire knowledge provides a different path to knowledge.  A mentor helps the mentee to grow and develop by transferring their experience over a relatively long period of time.  The length of time the mentee and mentor interact and the level of intimacy can generate an enormous impact on the trajectory of a person’s career. Picking the correct mentor requires effort and forethought. A simple checklist can be used to test whether the person you are considering makes sense.  All of the items in the checklist are yes/no questions; there are no in-between or sort-of answers. (more…)

The difference between mentoring and coaching is slippery.

The coach is a core role in the discussion of adopting agile.  Coaching is important because it can lead it to smoothly functioning organizations, higher productivity, and profits. The perceived value of coaching has caused some practitioners and team members to confuse the concepts of coaching, mentoring and, in some cases, counseling.  Confusion leads to misapplication of techniques, mismatched expectations, and lower value.  Some of the more salient attributes of each role include:


  1.     Targets specific behaviors.  For example, a speaking coach works with the person they are coaching on behaviors that revolve around speaking.
  2.     Set duration. Coaches are typically deployed for a specific period of time. For example, the speaking coach noted above might be retained for a specific speech or retained for a period of time. Using a sports example, pitchers typically have a pitching coach that works with the pitching staff during baseball season.  (Note: I am a baseball fan – the Cleveland Indians pitchers and catchers report to spring training on February 14; I bet the coaches have been hired and are already planning.)
  3.     Might not have specific experience in the area they are coaching.  For example, many agile coaches might not have specific coding or testing experience.  Coaches have experience in asking the right questions.
  4.     Agendas are defined to address specific job-related goals. Performance of a speaking coach will be evaluated based on the “coachees” performance when speaking, not based on other goals.
  5.     Involve other stakeholders.  Coaches interact with and often involve stakeholders to help the person being coached to improve the behavior they were coached on.


  1.     Relationship driven. Mentoring is built on the relationship between the mentor and mentee.  Mentors tend to have long, on-going interactions with the person they are helping.
  2.     Broad-based rather than focused.  Mentoring focuses on the person rather than on a specific behavior.
  3.     The mentor has been there and done that. Mentors will have more experience than the person they are mentoring.  My wife’s association assigned her a business coach that had been a successful business owner that was able to provide guidance and direction based on that experience.
  4.     Career and personal development oriented. A mentor’s role is to develop the person, not to address a specific issue. Even though a mentor might provide specific guidance, they need to think about guiding and molding the whole person.  Early in my career, a very young CIO of a bank that I worked for had a mentor from one of the big accounting/consulting companies.  The mentor helped the CIO learn how to shift from being a technician to an executive leader over several years.
  5.     Mentors remove barriers. Mentors get things out of the way so that the person grow.  A coach will help mentees to remove barriers themselves.
  6.     Not based on explicit power.  Mentors derive their power based on their experience and the mentee’s interest.  They can not force the person they are mentoring to take their advice.  Coaches tend to have more positional power. In some cases, the coach can impact whether a person plays or is promoted.   


  1.     Focuses on the underlying issue.  Counselors are focused on the underlying issues that drive behaviors.
  2.     Rarely involve other stakeholders.  Counseling focuses on what is driving behaviors.  In a business scenario, it is rare for individuals to share at that level with others in the organization or team.

In a recent interview with the agile coach, Sam Liang (to be published in February), the distinction between mentoring and coaching was illustrated in stark contrast.  Coaches ask questions while mentors provide more specific guidance. When asked how he saw the difference, coach and mentor David Herron said, “I see them as similar, using some of the same skills and practices. However, mentoring is more personal and longer term, a relationship. Coaching may be shorter term, with targeted goals and objectives.”  Coaching, mentoring, and counseling can deliver huge benefits but only if the right technique is used in the right circumstances.

Next:  More on the differences between coaching mentoring

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SPaMCAST 458 features our interview with Billie Schuttpelz.  We discussed why many organizations need help learning to use agile and lean.  We delved into the role of the coach and facilitator in helping an organization change and shape the message of change.  If you are involved in organizational transformations this is a must-listen interview.

Billie’s short bio:

Billie is a ‘force of nature’ breaking up the boulders blocking transformation; building bridges between technical people and business partners. She applies the perspective gained in a 20 year career including engagements in 5 countries to provide dynamic creativity and positive energy to everything she does. Billie’s ability to make the impossible seem possible is what powers agile transformations.

We also have a promo for 2017 Agile Leadership Summit:

Mark your calendar for an entirely new class of business conference. More “business theater” than conference, the 2017 Agile Leadership Summit (September 22nd in Washington, DC) is sponsored by AgileCxO ( It features an integrated mix of six vignettes on Agile leadership, two fantastic industry keynotes, and onstage jazz musicians who are demonstrating agility, iteration, and excellence throughout. Learn more at

For other events, SPaMCAST team members will be attending check the recent blog entry titled Upcoming Conferences and Webinars!

Re-Read Saturday News

This week Steven dives into Chapter 7 of Paul Gibbons’ book The Science of Successful Organizational Change.  Change is a central activity of every organization.  How changes happen is not as straightforward as commanding that change happens.  No one likes to be changed or manipulated.  Self-organization maximizes the impact of change but alas no change is like waving a magic wand. Remember to use the link in the essay to buy a copy of the book to support the author, the podcast, and the blog!   

This week and previous installments: (more…)

You Better Ask Questions!

The role of a coach often centers on diagnosing problems and helping people come to an understanding of how their behavior or feelings are affecting their team and organization. Rarely is an issue so obvious that simply observing behavior and then sharing observations generate organizational or self-awareness. Questions are an important tool in any coach’s data gathering arsenal. Some questions are useful to expose management or leadership behaviors while others are targeted to generate knowledge at the individual and group level.  A sample of questions useful when working with individuals or groups (outside the earshot of their managers).

  1. Is it harder to get out of bed to come to work than it used to be?

This is a fairly blunt question that can be used once you have established a rapport with a team or group.  It establishes an admission that something has changed and that the respondent is less motivated. (more…)

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SPaMCAST 446 will feature our essay on questions.  Questions are a coach and facilitator’s secret power! But, with great power comes great responsibility.  

Our second column is from Gene Hughson.  Gene and I discussed his essay Go-to People Considered Harmful originally published on his blog Form Follows Function (  The concept may sound counterintuitive, but it is not.

The third column is from Kim Pries, the Software Sensei.  In this installment, Kim dives into the topic of servant leadership.

Re-Read Saturday News (more…)

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