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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 479 three columns!  The first column features a recent essay on the difference between a coach and a mentor in the form of a simple checklist. Which do you need?  Check out the other three entries in this theme on the Software Process and Measurement Cast blog.

Our second column features Steve Tendon who brings his Tame The Flow: Hyper-Productive Knowledge-Work Performance, The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban  (buy a copy here) to the cast.  Chapter 20 and 21 are extremely important to understanding and applying the TameFlow approach, therefore, we are spending time with the author to get to the heart of the concepts.

Anchoring the cast is Jon Quigley returning with his column, Alpha and Omega of Product Development.  Jon and I discussed why employee engagement is more than an academic topic.

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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…)

Picture of a two signs one pointing in one directions and the other . . . the other direction.

Which way to a good mentor?


A mentor is defined by the online version of Merriam-Webster as “a trusted counselor or guide.” As we noted in the article Coaching versus Mentoring, a mentor plays a fundamentally different role than a coach.  A mentor helps the mentee to grow and develop by transferring their experience over a relatively long period of time. A mentor can have an enormous impact on the trajectory of a person’s career. Even though mentors and mentees tend to have long-term relationships, those relationships will not be forever. Most professionals will have to establish relationships with several mentors over their career.  Understanding what makes a good mentor is an important piece of career knowledge.

Good mentors: (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


Questions, like most tools, can be used correctly or incorrectly.  A hammer used on a nail or on a screw is still a hammer; however, in most circumstances, we would debate the effectiveness of the hammer when used to insert a screw.  Questions are no different than our proverbial hammer.  Used well they can generate information or shape behavior; used incorrectly they can generate misinformation and friction. When questions are used for coaching and mentoring there are a number of poor practices that should be avoided: (more…)


Asking Questions Implies Listening

As coaches, leaders, change agents and even parents, the act of asking questions can take on an almost magical power to guide and change behavior. As with any powerful tool, when the tool begins to take on magical attributes, the users of the tool begin to forget that a tool is just a tool.  At that point, to quote Ian Brown, “they just become a fool with a tool.” Questions are a useful tool for a coach because questions: (more…)