The Value of Coaching Told Through Real Life Stories

I recently wrote a post on What is an Agile coach. It’s worth reading that post before this one.

This is the first true story in a set of blog posts written by different coaches in the Adventures with Agile network and consultancy, on the real challenges, solutions and real business benefits, that they have faced and overcome through coaching in the organisations they work with.

This story is by me, but others will be by other coaches.

A change in product leadership

It was my dream Scrum teams. Two teams, working on one product, with a single backlog and a manager/team lead who was clearly a servant leader trying to do himself out of a job. There was a SM for each team, and the team were delivering valuable software every sprint.

I had moved away from the team for a while to focus on other teams who needed more coaching when I had a call from one of the SMs and the manager. I was needed to discuss the new work they had been asked to do by the PO.

We had a quick meeting, swiftly arriving at the cause of the trouble. A very senior Product Manager had left and been replaced by a Theory X manager who had no understanding of the level of predictability in software development.

He had the team working on low-level specifications that would take about three months to complete, detailing exactly what they would be working on for the next year. Software delivery had stopped.

The new PM was in town the following week, and I managed to get 30 mins of his time. It was a small window, but it was all I had to change his mind on the approach.

I arrived, and everyone was in the room except the PM. I got settled in; we were early by a few minutes so I expected he would still turn up.

Exactly on time, (let’s call him Bob), came into the room. He sat down facing me, crossed his arms and legs in a defensive posture, and stated in a matter of fact way, ‘why should I listen to you?’.

I smiled internally. This was the moment where I either added value or died 1000 deaths.

I do enjoy these brief moments of tension, the pause before the conversation. I sometimes like to sit in that moment for just long enough for others to notice it. It is a great place of quiet and calm.

I started on the benefits of testing the marketplace and getting good feedback from clients. But this did not interest him. He was sure that what he wanted was the right thing, plus clients would never have time to review “part finished solutions anyway”. With this product, it was all or nothing.

I discussed the predictability of software, which held no sway. He didn’t believe that software is inherently unpredictable. Instead, we just needed to work harder if we got behind.

Ok, I hadn’t found my entry point, yet.

So I listened really carefully using the listening skills we learnt on Lyssa and Michael’s course. I used my intuition to read his body language and felt myself tuning into him.

Sometimes people are like a combination lock. If you get the right configuration, the right turn, the right sign, click! … and the spring opens.

All of a sudden, it came to me. Risk. I asked him who was responsible for making the product profitable. He said that he was. I asked him if he was absolutely certain that this product would make the return required and was he prepared to stake his reputation on it. Was he that certain?

Well, as it turned out, he wasn’t. So… how could we help him mitigate some of that profit risk? Hey, what if we identified the really risky bits and tried those out first?

Suddenly he came alive. Incremental delivery suddenly seemed like a good idea.

“Let’s stop creating these documents, and start testing out those risky things. I sure would like to sleep easier at night knowing we had those nailed”.

Now, the Scrum teams were back writing software, reducing risk and making sure they kept the PO and the PM updated by having transparent boards that could be viewed at any time.

A coaching success! Saving months of waste and producing documents that would never be used, which reduced no risk. Instead, we can now produce usable software.

The end.






Simon Powers
Simon Powers is an Agile Coach specialising in large scale transformations and agile adoption. He has a background in very large enterprise architecture which has led on to organisational design and agile process refinement. Simon is the founder of Adventures with Agile.