In this podcast, I talk with Søren Pedersen.  We talk about teams, value streams, and leveraging agile to improve how teams deliver value.  We started with the definition of a team and then got into the practical nitty-gritty of defining value streams and coaching teams. 


SØREN PEDERSEN is a co-founder of BuildingBetterSoftware, a strategic leadership consultant, and an international speaker. With more than fifteen years of software development experience, Søren knows how to help businesses meet their digital transformation goals. Using Agile methodologies, he helps leaders achieve organizational


The Software Process and Measurement Cast 621 features our essay on why agile coaches need a code of ethics. Agile is practiced in nearly every culture. Each culture has its own definition of duty and of right and wrong. Coaches help to establish and address the client’s needs by leveraging approaches that align with the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto. It’s time for coaching to grow up and be a profession.


An Agile Coaching Code of Ethics  (ACCoE) must solve or deter a problem that can occur during a coaching relationship. Even when a coaching gig is strictly transactional, the relationship begins before any coaching occurs and extends well after coaching. The length of the relationship requires anyone delivering coaching to carefully consider the explicit and implicit outcomes of their behaviors. The essay Why An Agile Coaching Code Of Ethics laid out five ways that outcomes are tangibly affected. The first three effects provide a tactical framework for shaping and guiding behavior (the second set of two are more strategic and we will discuss them later).  The tactical framework includes:


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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 613 features our essay on directive and non-directive coaching. DIrective coaches, akin to many athletic coaches, are a hard sell at the team level. Non-directive coaches, akin to mentors, are not always viewed as effective by senior leaders. In reality, it is not cut and dry.

Essays in the Directive – Non-directive Series

Agile Coaching Techniques: Styles of Coaches –

Directive or Non-directive Coaching – 

Directive or Non-directive Coaching: Why Everyone Needs To Know – 

In the second spot this week, Jeremy Berriault brings his QA Corner to the cast.  We discuss coaching testers. Indirectly we have a discussion about the use of directive and non-directive coaching styles.  You can reach Jeremy at (more…)


The Software Process and Measurement Cast 612 features a conversation with Woody Zuill and Allan Kelly on the topic of being an agile guide. I have felt that the term coach was overused for more than a few years. Woody and Allan put a voice to a topic that I started writing about earlier this summer describing the term ‘agile guide’. Over the past 14 years, there have been a number of conversations that changed how I think and work.  This is certainly one of those gestalt moments.   (more…)

The discussion of whether a coach is using a directive or non-directive coaching approach is not an academic discussion. As a person that has held internal and external coach positions, the primary reason to explicitly understand the expectations of the role and how those expectations can evolve is so that you can manage those expectations. As noted in Directive or Non-Directive Coaching, coaching one way or the other is neither good nor bad depending on the context. The big but is that when a person, team, or organization expects or needs you to act one way and you act the other things go awry.  Three basic scenarios can be used to illustrate when one approach is indicated over another. They are:  (more…)

Move you head this way!

The word coach is used so indiscriminately that the meaning is hard to discern. Saying you are a coach still sends a signal, but the signal is at the mercy of the person that hears the term and it might not be what you’ve intended. In Agile Coaching Techniques: Styles of Coaches we used two different coaching approaches to define a continuum: directive and non-directive.  We used athletic coaches to mark the directive end of the spectrum and life coaches to mark the non-directive end. Each style has a very different approach to involvement.

To get a sense of how the market is leaning on the coaching involvement level scale, I grabbed a handful of job postings from LinkedIn from the US (some from the East Coast, Central Plains, and West Coast). I pulled out the job requirements and sorted them into categories. These categories could then be interpreted as directive or non-directive based on the verb they used.  For example, if the requirement used the active verb “manage” I put the requirement in the directive column. Verbs like advise and mentor I put in the non-directive category. I threw out things like projects and activities to be assigned as needed.

Coaching styles, as noted earlier, can be separated into two macro styles: directive and non-directive.  The basic approach of a directive coach is to “tell, show, do.”  The coach will teach the coachee (individual or team) how to perform a behavior or ceremony, then demonstrate, and then oversee the coachee performing the activity. The train-the-trainer approach used for transferring the knowledge to teach classes is a form of directive coaching. In directive situations, the coach needs to have deep levels of knowledge about the subject matter. For example, if you were coaching a team on behavior-driven development (BDD) you need an understanding of not only the theory but the practical knowledge of how to write and execute BDD tests.  

Directive job requirements included action verbs such as: 

  • Enforce,
  • Implement,
  • Lead,
  • Manage,
  • Methodologist,
  • Participate,
  • Improve (process), and
  • Measure.

The basic approach of non-directive coaches works by helping the person or people they are coaching to discover and apply their personnel experience to solve their problems.  Alyssa Adkins, the author of Coaching Agile Teams, uses the phrase, “ask the team” which is reflective of non-directive coaching. This style is very popular in agile circles.  

Job requirements whose action verbs include one or more of the following were judged as non-directive:

  • Facilitate,
  • Mentor,
  • Coach (this feels like defining a word with the word being defined), and
  • Train.

Even though the non-directive style of coaching is more popular in the agile community, the small sample of job descriptions include substantially more directive type responsibilities (about a 60/40 split). Styles are just styles; I have used directive and non-directive techniques. The context and my agreements with the people involved provide a way to navigate between the two camps.  

August 4:  Why understanding style matters

August 6:  I am an agile guide

Mt Kilamajaro

It you don’t walk you won’t see the world.


I was recently asked if agile coaches needed to exhibit flexibility. Unfortunately, the answer which should be ‘of course’ had to be, “it depends” because the word coach in agile circles is used indiscriminately. Organizations have many roles that have coaching somewhere on their job description or work order. The goal of the act of coach is straightforward, to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in someone’s or some group’s life. The broadness of the goal means that anyone using any set of techniques can jot coach down on their resume in good conscious. The problem is that the expectations of the approach will differ.


Sometimes art is a metaphor and sometimes it is something else.


Clean Language’s pedigree is from psychotherapy and has found a home in coaching. It is also a valuable tool for discovering information about work products. As product managers, product owners, and stakeholders interact with the world and then describe a set of wants and needs they use metaphors. Metaphors are communication shortcuts that need to be explored. For example, product visions are often metaphor magnets. Most vision statements are considered internal and proprietary, therefore, they are hard to find (NDAs keep me from sharing the ones from companies I work with). Apple’s vision statement, according to Mission Statement Academy, is “We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing.” If that statement was an input for building a product backlog there are several metaphors that would need to be explored so they can be converted into features and user stories. Clean Language is a way to get people to realize and describe what they know, what they think, how they feel while reducing bias in the results. Using clean language to identify and record requirements and needs follows the standard format for asking clean language questions with a few twists. (more…)

What happens next?

Clean Language is a  tool to explore the metaphors used during discussions and conversations.  The term metaphor is being used in a broad sense to include similes and other subcategories.  Clean Language was originally developed by David Grove, a psychotherapist, in his practice working with trauma survivors. While many of us have been involved with death march projects over the years, a psychotherapy technique feels like overkill, especially since it takes a lot of effort to learn Clean Language Questions. However, the payback is worth the effort. I recently was sitting in the airport listening to a conversation between two colleagues. In a five-minute slice of the discussion, I counted 42 separate metaphors. Perhaps all the metaphors were understood, or perhaps they were participating in mutual mystification. A few well-placed Clean Language Questions would have been useful to ensure the conversation was synchronized. There are several categorizations of clean questions.  For example ‘Metaphors in Mind’ by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins group questions into nine categories. Other schemes range from four to nine.  The number of categories is less important than the idea that different questions will elicit different responses. Clean Language Questions seek to get the person answering the questions to recognize: (more…)

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