7-Steps to coaching agile non-software development teams

We are heading to LAST Conference this week in Melbourne, where I will be sharing our 7-step approach to coaching agile non-software development teams.

LAST Conferences are a Community based event for lean, agile and systems thinking practitioners. With agile ways of working starting to spread and become more popular in parts of the business outside of IT, we thought it was a good opportunity to share our Human-centric Design approach to coaching non-software development teams. Here it is:

STEP 1:  Leader Interview

The first thing we do before starting to coach any team, is have an interview with the leader of that team. This is a critical first step as it allows us to get an understanding of the leader’s “agile mindset” as well as gather context information about the team – where do they sit in the organisation, how many direct reports and sub teams exist, what is the leader trying to achieve and what is their current state and their pain points.  We should be able to get a sense of how (or sometimes even – if) we can best help the team; and formulate a plan with the leader.

STEP 2:  Introducing agile to the team

During our first meeting with the team, we provide a very light touch agile training. We focus on its mindset, values and principles; where it comes from and the benefits of working in this way. You may find the team a bit wary at first and it’s important to seek their permission to come in and improve (disrupt for them) their way of working. We don’t talk about any methodology or frameworks like SAFe or scrum, or introduce new roles like scrum masters. We focus instead on removing some of the mystery and misconceptions about agile and making the team feel safe and in control of their learning so that they can proactively embrace this new way of working.

STEP 3:  Facilitate a Purpose session

We usually then schedule a session to work on the team purpose. We bring the team together to agree on their “why”, what is the reason that  is going to inspire them to get out of bed and show up for each other every day. We also help them to define their vision (where do they want to go) and their team’s essence (what makes them unique). Then connect their “why” with the company’s purpose so that they can see how they fit into the bigger picture.

STEP 4:  Run their first Retrospective

If you are an experienced software development agile coach, you would be used to running retrospectives at the end of every sprint or iteration. We usually do one at the beginning of our engagement with teams. This retrospective will most likely be the first the team has ever held.  It’s important that they understand it’s an opportunity for them to uncover issues and take ownership of them.  A retrospective gives the team a voice and the empowerment and engagement starts to develop.

STEP 5:  Develop visual management tools

We then develop a Visual Management Board or Boards to help the team visualise their work. We use this session also to help the team prioritise their work and to think about it in terms of outcomes rather than outputs. Each board should  be different as it should represent how the team works and should be designed and tailored to their specific needs. We like physical boards over online ones; as they provide a meeting point for the team too; but if the team is heavily co-located then a Trello or Leankit board can do the trick. This is also a good opportunity to introduce some metrics (not targets!) in the form of a dashboard next to the board.

STEP 6:  Agree on the operating rhythm

Once we have a visual board, we agree on a cadence or operating rhythm. We help the team agree on when their stand-ups should be, how often should they hold a retro, and get those sprint planning sessions recurring in their calendars. We like a fortnightly sprint planning cadence; but we have successfully implemented a weekly and monthly rhythm also, depending on the teams’ needs. Here it is as important to note that we’re not looking to add meetings at the wall to their already full calendars – we’re wanting to guide the team to use stand-ups instead of and even drop some of their other meetings completely (maybe those boring WIP meetings can become a thing of the past?)

STEP 7:  Coach / Review / Adjust

And finally, get started. This new way of working (daily stand ups, cards on the walls) will feel uncomfortable for some people. Some will find the adjustment harder than others. We provide them with the support and hand-holding as they need it. We don’t worry too much about them not following the “agile rulebook”; instead we look for the right behaviors to emerge and highlight them. There is a good chance that we may need to adjust a few things as we go. Remember that our role as agile coaches is to create a safe space for the team and guide them through their journey to agility, wherever they may be on that journey.

You can hear more about these steps on Friday (June 30th) @ 1:30pm (EN101 L100).  Hope to see you there!

Written by Eduardo Nofuentes
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