The folks at Agile Velocity were kind enough to interview me about technical craftsmanship and post it online. I feel like I'm occupying a special role as an advocate for technical excellence here. Those who know me realize that I don't consider myself a "technical coach," and I am not the person to look to for hands-on mentoring in technical practices. However, I find it impossible to work in the software development sphere and not pay attention to the technical practices of the teams and organizations that I work with. That's the craft. Whether you know how to write code or not, be in the conversations about the technical practices used where you work and find out how you can support improvement.
I had a realization earlier that struck me as funny.
I've been holding myself back.
Ok, that wasn't the funny part. It was my immediate next thought:
Of course I've been holding myself back--no one else can!
Who else would stop us from our dreams? If it's important to us, we'll find a way. And yet we stop ourselves, hinder ourselves, make things more complicated for ourselves.
I've had this notion that telling people what I want will cheapen "it" if I get it. Like because I had to ask or say something about it, it's less thoughtful or deserved when I receive it. Whatever "it" is. This isn't the same as not saying what you wished for when you blow out birthday candles. This adult version of not sharing what I wish for is holding me back in life!
Where are you holding yourself back?
I've presented a number of different topics at various conferences with different co-presenters, and I thought it would be fun to stretch my skills by trying something new. I've submitted a 7-minute Pecha Kucha on Communities Support Transformation and a 3-minute lightning talk called Coaches Say the Darndest Things. Both formats are outside of my comfort zone, and I'm hoping at least one will be selected for the Agile 2016 conference. If you are attending the conference, please vote for my topics at the links above. I'd love to have a deadline to create and refine the talks by--external accountability helps!
Sometimes I learn new things at conferences and training classes. And sometimes I am reminded of things that I already know.
Two events caused me to see something I knew but had lost sight of:
- Craig Larman mentioned in LeSS class that software developers are trained in computer science programs to gather requirements, design, code, and test, so doing these activities within a self-organizing team is not a big stretch for them.
- Diana Larsen pointed out during the Organization Design Forum that “knowledge worker” is a misnomer for software developers—a better name would be “learning worker” because we are continually learning more about our customers, our business, technology, etc.
Software development is all about learning! That sounds obvious, and in some ways, it is. It is the foundation of our work. Learning is the bottleneck in delivering software. And yet I see organizations try to optimize teams and processes based on knowledge rather than learning. Teams are often designed based on people’s roles, assumed skills, and existing domain knowledge instead of allowing cross-functional teams to self-design based on their understanding of people’s skill sets and social preferences.
I also remembered a few facts about adult learners that further amplified for me why scrum teams can be great learning vehicles:
- Groups learn faster than individuals
- An individual’s commitment is proportionate to personal investment in design
- Highly cohesive groups influence each other more than non-cohesive groups
- People have to see practical connection
How is your organization design supporting learning rather than knowledge? How is it not?
For the longest time, the word “accountability” bothered me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I’m a fairly responsible person. Before saying yes to something new, I try to pause and reflect on what I’m committing myself to and what I might need to say no to as a result. Being held responsible for my commitments is fine. So what is it about “accountability” that makes me feel anxious?
One day as I heard someone talking about how people need to be held accountable throughout their organization in order for real change to happen, I felt the anger and frustration in her voice. Her values hadn’t been honored. Sadly, I sensed she wanted to shame people for not doing their jobs the way she wanted. It’s like she was holding a baseball bat in her hands as she talked about needing to hold people accountable. No wonder I felt uncomfortable.
Most people don’t come to work to do a bad job. They are not children who require babysitting. They are humans who are trying, doing the best that they can, and occasionally making mistakes. Christopher Avery has a great view on accountability:
Accountability is external. Accountability is always a relationship between you and somebody else. Whether or not you are held to account isn’t up to you — it’s up to that other person.
We all need feedback in order to know how we’re doing and what we can improve, and the way that we deliver that message matters tremendously. We can show up with our imaginary baseball bats, hurt relationships, and allow a toxic culture to develop when we hold people accountable. Or we can be in alignment with our values and have healthy conversations about expectations, how are current behaviors are impacting others, and the results they’re producing. Accountability can build relationships and a culture of trust or it can be an excuse to tear people down. What is it doing in your organization?
It's been incredible visiting Phoenix, Indianapolis, and even Cornwall, Ontario this year meeting other agilists and sharing ideas--I love the conversations that start from one person sharing their experiences. However, this post is all about Dallas.
The agile community in Dallas continues to grow, and I want it continue to thrive. If your team or organization would benefit from a lunch and learn presentation related to an agile topic, please contact me. I would love to share my knowledge and experiences, answer questions, and get to know others in the local community. I've grown through my involvement in Dallas, and it's a joy giving back.
Mike Rieser and I had the pleasure of presenting Technical Excellence Doesn't Just Happen--Igniting a Craftsmanship Culture at Keep Austin Agile 2016. Mike and I partnered as coaches to help an organization through a technical turnaround, and the session is about why technical excellence matters and what we did to support 20 scrum teams improving their technical practices. Check out this interview we did with Howard Sublett on the subject:
I am very excited to share that I've done my first podcast interview! Over the last year, I've been listening to podcasts more, and Vic Bonacci of Agile Coffee was kind enough to introduce me to Vasco Duarte and his Scrum Master Toolbox podcast. The podcast interviews Scrum Masters and practitioners to share their experiences and perspectives on failure, success, and change. Visit http://scrum-master-toolbox.com/ for more information and volunteer to be interviewed if you're interested.
Stop micromanaging. No more command and control. Trust the team.
But how often do we talk about what it's like to give up control? It can feel wrong to let go. It's risky. It forces us to question what's important to us. It causes us to really think about the character and competence of those we're supposed to trust.
David Marquet believes leaders are needed at every level of an organization, which requires looking at leadership differently:
So when you find yourself holding onto control, ask yourself how you can create an environment for greatness and develop leadership in those around you. How can people make decisions as if the CEO was behind them?
As I’ve been working on my Changing Organizational Mindset presentation, I’ve been thinking about how easy it is for someone coaching agile teams to become cynical. Because there often comes a moment when the coach feels frustrated by a lack of progress and thinks, “they just don’t get it!” They could be anyone: a team, a manager, or a stakeholder… In that moment, the coach feels stuck.
That’s the moment you need to pivot in your coaching. Instead of teaching, try facilitating. Stop mentoring and ask powerful questions. Start with those closest to changing. Access your creativity and find a new way of approaching the situation.
I am reminded of the farewell speech that Conan O’Brien gave when he left The Tonight Show:
All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.
You can do amazing things as an agile coach if you can recognize when you’re feeling frustrated or stuck and choose to change your behavior rather than blame or give up on people. And it will make you appreciate again how hard it is to change.