Nanny McPhee’s Advice for Agile Coaches and ScrumMasters

Nanny McPheeNanny McPhee, though never working as an agile coach or ScrumMaster, knows a thing or two about organization dynamics. New to this particular group, she brings a wealth of experience and a toolbox of techniques and practices. She has a sponsor; someone that invited her in, who sees the need for her presence and who wants the overall group to improve – for their own sakes as well as for the long-term well-being of the broader group and their wide community of stakeholders. Not all the people involved either agree they need to improve, or want to improve. The status quo suits them just fine, and not everyone welcomes her, or her ideas.

She has a very apt quote from the first movie:

There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go. It’s rather sad, really, but there it is.

Nanny McPhee faces an uphill battle, but is undaunted. Her experience helps her to understand the situation, and identify ways to help individuals and, with time, the entire group. Eventually she helps the group to reach a point where they can carry on without her, building on the foundation she helped them to lay. Part of her engagement with the group is to recognize when they no longer need her, and can continue to make improvements themselves.

Although I had seen this family movie when it first came out, it was Olaf Lewitz who pointed out the relevance of the quote to me at a coaching workshop on a Friday afternoon in Trondheim, on the last day of XP2010. Since then I noticed that Lyssa Adkins used the quote too in Chapter 4 of her excellent book, ‘Coaching Agile Teams’.

Who knows what’s next for Nanny McPhee and her reach in the agile community? Maybe a keynote or invited talk at Agile 2011 or XP 2011?

Looking forward to Agile Coach Camp Norway 2011

It is important to take time out every now and then, away from the demands of the day job, to focus on developing your skills. Agile Coach Camps provide a great opportunity for practicing agile coaches to come together to share experiences, ideas and insights. In January 2011 Norway is hosting an Agile Coach Camp for the first time. This is an event for people involved in coaching, training, mentoring and leading agile organizations. The Web site has a list of people who are organizing and attending the event. I registered earlier today, and I’m very much looking forward to attending.

Event structure

The event structure will have two main parts – an agile coach dojo and an Open Space. The Agile Coaches Dojo concept was developed by Rachel Davies, and I first came across it at Agile 2010. Open Space is a powerful approach to hosting conferences and other events without a predefined agenda. I have both hosted and attended numerous Open Space events and really enjoy them.

Position Paper

As is common now with unconferences and Open Spaces, people must submit a position paper to register. For Agile Coach Camp Norway, the position paper consists of four questions:

  1. What is your superpower?
  2. What’s your experience coaching teams towards being agile?
  3. What do you plan to learn/explore at this conference?
  4. How do you plan to contribute?

The set of position papers give a nice overview of who is attending and what they are interested in.

My Agile Coach Camp Position Paper

The conference Web site has the position papers for everyone attending. Here are my answers to the four questions.

What is your superpower?

I am good at seeing the otherwise invisible connections between things.

What’s your experience coaching teams towards being agile?

I have been working with agile methods (first XP, then Crystal, Scrum and others; more recently Kanban and Lean) since 1998/1999. In that time I have introduced agile to lots of teams and multiple companies. I currently work for Cisco as an internal coach, working with multiple teams and organizations.

What do you plan to learn/explore at this conference?

I am open to learning new techniques, practices and ideas that will help me on my journey of becoming a better coach. Specific topics that currently interest me, and I that I would like to explore, include:

  1. Coaching organizations – creating the right environment so our agile teams can thrive; helping the entire organization to become more agile;
  2. Stakeholder engagement and agile coaching – how to effectively engage with broad communities of stakeholders
  3. Coaching from a distance – working with distributed and dispersed teams;
  4. Creating coaching circles, coaching dojos and other learning environments within an organization

How do you plan to contribute?

I plan to propose a session from the ones I listed above, and fully participate in as many other sessions as possible. Also happy to help in any other way that’s needed.

5 Books for Agile Coaches

There is a growing body of knowledge on agile coaching, and some of the tools required to be an effective agile coach. These books are a great starting point for anyone interested in understanding what an agile coach is, how to become an agile coach, or generally how to be more effective as a coach or ScrumMaster.

These books assume knowledge and experience with agile, and are not an introduction to agile.

I list them here in the order in which I read them. If you are an agile coach, ScrumMaster, or someone interested in helping teams and organizations achieve higher performance, then these are essential reading.

Book - Agile RetrospectivesBook - Agile CoachingBook - Collaboration ExplainedBook - Project RetrospectivesBook - Coaching Agile Teams

Two of the books are specifically about retrospectives. Retrospectives are an essential tool in our box as coaches, and developing skills with a variety of retrospective techniques is important.