A Week in the Life of An Agile Coach – Thursday

7:30am – I arrive at our head office early as I’m delivering a rather thorough 4-hour Agile introduction to 20 or so people.   Since this is my 30th or so time delivering this at this company I’m into a good rhythm and getting here early just allows me to miss most of the morning traffic.

I have a chat with the project manager who is handling the budgeting for our team and ask about the hardware we were supposed to get for the team 3 months ago, he lets me know it’s still on order and should be here soon.  There are some blocks a coach or Scrum Master just can’t remove and with an enterprise company and big, heavy-weight process, it is what it is, so we’ve been making do with what we have and pillaging spare machines for parts.

8:45am – Armed with a projector, sticky notes, markers and purpose, I head over to the training room and setup.    People start stumbling in and my observation about culture here over the last few months is that people seem to double-book themselves quite a bit or simple expect meetings to start late so I expect to start later than I thought.

9:15am – After sending out a reminder and getting a couple of last minute cancellations and a couple of no-shows, the class is down to 16 people and I get started.  I remind everyone that  I would appreciate it if they turn their Blackberries off and ignore them.  I offer to do the same knowing full well, based on history, some folks will ignore the rule.

Today’s session has a wide-range of personalities such as folks from product management, audit, release management and various analysts.   I find this really helps everyone understand the impacts of transforming to Agile for other co-workers in different areas of this department.

I won’t go into deep details about the class but essentially the first half is conceptual in nature.  We talk about the Manifesto, what it means and that Agile is not a quick fix solution and there is no checklist or easy answers.  I remind them that it would be simply crazy for me to convey that a 4-hour session is going to arm them with all the tools of the trade and that myself and my mentor are here to help when they want help.  Some are confused by that message and often I’m asked what the plan is to roll Agile out across the company and if we can just give them the answer.

They are a bit surprised to hear when I say that I don’t know the answer but I do have a whole bunch of knowledge and tools that will help us discover what works for us. We understand the way we are working isn’t working very well but it’s up to all of us to find the best solution.  I can certainly help guide that but my mandate isn’t to come in and order them to follow what I say.

The second half goes into more tactics where I talk about Scrum and Extreme Programming to help them understand the definitions and underlying principles.   I remind them again that if they like what they see, approach me afterwards if they want to learn how to apply them in their situation.

1pm – Class finishes up, I stick around for more questions and a couple of people invite me to some meetings for their group to further talk about how they can employ these techniques.  Some of the folks who were involved in early “agile” projects are relieved to hear what they thought was Agile really wasn’t.  There is danger is mistaking that just because you work in 2 week Sprints and have a backlog you are Agile.

I get some feedback from my mentor that I seemed nervous and I suppose on an unconscious level I probably was.  I have a great deal of admiration and respect for her so I wanted to prove myself.  She also tells me about a couple of things she would explain differently and tells me what those were and what she would change.  Luckily I also have my utility belt on so I jot down some notes.

3pm – After scarfing down a slice of pizza I rush over to our mid-town office for a meeting with a team in supply chain management.  They enjoyed the Agile introduction session last week and wanted me to come in and see if I could help them apply the practices to an upcoming project.

I listen to them explain what they are trying to accomplish and talk about a couple of approaches.  The key message I try to deliver is to collaborate.  Involve the whole team including the operators fielding the support tickets, the analysts, stakeholders and everyone involved in the project.  The wisdom of crowds is a powerful ally and I suggest they start off with a retrospective to start the dialogue.    After that, I point out that a brainstorming session would be a great way to figure out an action plan so they can at least figure out the direction they feel they need to go.

4:30pm – The meeting finishes up and I head home.

Sometime later that night – I check the Agile support mail box, respond to some emails and prepare an blog post on Retrospectives.