4 February 2011

A Survival Guide for New Agile Coaches - Have Some Compassion, Stupid!

My daughter went through a phase where she didn't want to go to school. There were also a couple of occasions where she woke up in the morning with a slight fever, only to have it disappear completely with a single dose of acetaminophen, thus giving her a free day at home. One day when she woke up with one of these fevers, I decided that I had had enough. It's Children's Tylenol for you, my dear, then off to school! After all, I'm a very important person, and I must get to work.

I fully expected that by the time she came downstairs for breakfast, there would be no problem at all. However, she dragged herself across the kitchen and sat down to a bowl of Fruit Loops with her head barely held above the table. My daughter has a flair for the dramatic, so I paid little attention. After several spoonfuls of cereal, she proceeded to barf on the table.

My first thought was, "Well played... can’t argue with barf!" My second thought was more about what a putz I was to ignore that she wasn't feeling well, and focusing on my own perceived importance. I stayed home with her while she felt rotten most of the day, and strangely the world kept turning without me.

Coaching Point 
The team you're coaching is probably quite new to Agile. In most of the cases I've encountered, that means that their whole world has been turned upside down. Suddenly they're in a team room or area rather than having private cubes. They have to talk about their status every day where before they could go a week or two without having to tell the world that they were stuck on a problem. Testers have been thrust onto a team with, ewww, developers! Developers have those evil, cunning and devious testers sitting right beside them! They have an annoying Coach who is telling them that their code is crappy and they need to rewrite it in little tiny steps! They are no longer using sophisticated tools for requirements gathering and planning, but instead using index cards and markers! Where they once had months before they needed to show progress, they now have days... and they have to demonstrate what they have completed to the people who have comfy chairs!

It's no wonder that people resist the change to Agile.

At some point you need to know when the team needs a bit of a break. They aren't faking in order to get out of school, they do indeed need a "sick day". Work with the team's management to organize some team building event that takes 1/2 to 1 day. Make it fun, although there are as many definitions of that word as there are people on the planet. It doesn't have to have a particular purpose beyond just blowing off some steam. The time lost by having the sick day will be more than made up by a refreshed team, and likely one that has bonded a little more in that time.

If you can't organize a larger event that brings the team to fun, try bringing fun to the team.  I often purchase toys for teams such as Nerf weaponry.  I do so under the guise of allowing teams to control external noise (self-organization at its playful best!), but it serves to lighten the mood among the team members.

This notion of bringing play into the workplace may seem foreign.  After all work is for work, and we're not supposed to have fun on company time!  However, as Stuart Brown so eloquently says in his landmark book Play,
The opposite of Play isn't work, it's depression.
I've seen depressed work environments and the negative effects that they have on productivity.  Introducing some lighthearted play can help immensely.

1 comment:

Agile Scout said...

Totally agree. Part of coaching is shaking things up and changing things up (for the better). That doesn't mean just dropping people on their heads.

It's about bringing the team to embrace better practices while enabling them to make the change over time. Sometimes it takes FUN to get people moving. A culture of fear never works.