A Simple, But Gross, Way To Evaluate Individual Performance On Agile Teams

Last year a CEO said to me, "I would really, really like to understand the individual performance of people on agile teams."

This is a question that is anathema in the agile community. It's all about the team.

Mighty thinkers, like the Poppendiecks, have struggled mightily with this question.

It turns out that there is a simple, but gross, way to answer this question. As an added bonus you get to revisit your college algebra.

Recall that a system of linear equations can be solved using techniques that you learned in high school algebra:

(1) x + y = 100

(2) x = 30

From these two equations, we know that y=70.

How does this solve the individual performance question? Imagine that there is a Scrum team with two people, x and y. In the first Sprint, they work together to produce 100 units of value. This is represented by equation 1. In the second Sprint, person y is on vacation and person x alone produces 30 units of value. This is represented by equation 2.

This concept can be applied to any team that is organized in any way[1]. It does not only apply to Scrum teams. The only requirement is that there must be a quantitative measure of value. The measure can be velocity or dollars or a KPI or something derived from an OKR. You get to choose. It could even be how happy the team is feeling on a scale of 1 to 50.

When you do this in practice you will find that the system of equations will be overdetermined. This simply means that there are more equations (Sprints or periods of time over which the data is collected) than there are unknowns (people). The standard approach, which you learned in college algebra, is to use the least squares method to find the "best" solution. Think of least squares as an objective function over the set of solutions.

Here is an example:

(1) x + y + z = 100

(2) x + y + 0.9z = 80

(3) x + y = 75

(4) x + y + z = 110

Here is how to read these equations:

(1) In the first Sprint, the three-person team produced 100 units of value.

(2) In the second Sprint, person z was out 10% of the time and the three-person team produced 80 units of value.

(3) In the third Sprint, person z was out the entire Sprint and the team produced 75 units of value.

(4) In the fourth Sprint, the three-person team produced 110 units of value.

The GRG Nonlinear solving method in Excel Solvr produces the following solution to this system of equations when minimizing the squared error:

x = 36.7

y = 36.7

z = 24.6

This solution can be read qualitatively as follows:

(1) Person x and person y are equally valuable on this team.

(2) Person z produces approximately one third less value than person x (and y) on this team.

I have never shared this approach with a client but I have used it to inform my coaching. The usual result is shocking: Not only are there people who are many times more valuable on a particular team than other people, but I often find that some people are contributing negative value!

This insight alone is enough to drive increases in agility at Fortune 500 companies over many eons.


[1] You may know someone who objects to using linear equations to capture team performance. They may suggest that equations of the form x+y+xy are a better model. The concept described in this article still applies but the math is harder and you will need to use a more capable solver. For ultimate expressive power apply machine learning techniques. Or the person may object to using math to capture team performance. That is an opportunity to be curious.

Everything You Need To Know About Pay For Agile Coaches (But Were Too Afraid To Ask)

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Compensation is the one thing everyone is afraid to talk about, no matter the industry or specialization.

People worry about repercussions—being fired, not being paid, being shamed for asking for too much or too little—even if those potential “punishments” don’t exist. And even if they don't fear backlash, talking about salaries and pay-rates is still largely considered taboo. 

We don’t talk about it, so that must mean we shouldn’t.    

But the only way to break the cycle is to start talking. So last year, I met with five fellow agile coaches in San Francisco to discuss trends and growth in our field. We looked at the demand for our services, how companies were utilizing them, and what groups are helped or hindered by our work. We also made a point to transparently report on average pay. 

Given that agile coaching and Scrum are new fields—and some of the fastest growing in the world—it’s critical that coaches old and new understand how their industry is changing and what that means for their compensation. 

If you're looking for a buddy in agile to compare notes with, here's everything you need to know about pay for agile coaching:

Agile coaches are wildly in-demand.

Every year, LinkedIn publishes a list of the “Most Promising Jobs.” In 2017, Scrum Master (a title frequently interchanged with agile coach) appeared as #10 on the list. In 2019, it remains in the same spot, with a reported median base salary of $103,000 and year-over-year growth of 67% in job openings. 

For context, Data Scientist is at the top of this year’s list with a median base salary of $130,000 and a year-over-year growth of 56%. 

In short: the need for agile coaches is increasing faster every year than the most promising position from the last three years. 

Early in 2018, one of the coaches from our meeting was contacted by two of the biggest management consulting firms in the US. The first was hiring 20 agile coaches, and the second was hiring “more agile coaches than the recruiter had ever seen before.”

Whatever that second number may have truly been, it’s not an over-exaggeration. 

While the demand for coaches continues to steadily increase each year, the number of trained coaches stays the same—there are currently only approximately 150 Scrum Alliance Certified Agile Coaches.

The catch is, no one knows how long that demand will last.

The rise of agile coaching has been steadily increasing since the global financial crisis of 2007–2008. 

In the U.S., the stock market has skyrocketed in the decade after the crisis, going on the longest bull run in history. During the boom, the tech sector was the main beneficiary, and today, all of the top five publicly-traded companies by market cap are tech-related.

It’s no coincidence then, given that most agile coaches specialize in tech, that the need for agile coaches has increased with the increase in tech companies.  

But at some point, this feverish pace will slow.

One aspect that may cause a slowdown is the entry of management consultants into the Scrum space. While this is currently serving to bolster the market, it will almost certainly weaken it over time. Because if a company is willing to accept “coaching” from a management consultant, that instantly brings thousands of consultants into the agile coaching market.

Another aspect is that the transition from the industrial age to the digital age will only occur once. Consider the startups in Silicon Valley that are “born agile” and have sharply different needs than legacy firms. 

As demand fluctuates, it will be on agile coaches to adapt—and part of this is understanding what to charge clients.

Pay for agile coaches varies based on contract, location, and industry.

In an effort to promote transparency in our developing field, my fellow agile coaches and I charted various reported salaries and pay rates from data we collected. In doing so, we found that: 

  • The lowest rate a contract agile coach made in our data set was $85/hour working as a contractor with a health insurance company. The highest pay was $5K/day.

  • For a full time agile coach, a $200K salary with a 25% annual bonus and a $10K signing bonus is top of the range.

  • Location impacted pay significantly. The highest rates were in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and the lowest were in Midwestern states like Iowa.

  • Limited data was available for international agile coach compensation, but we found that $85/hour Canadian dollars (about $63 USD) was the average rate for independent coaches in Canada with cities like Toronto paying the best in the country. In Europe independent agile coaches earn approximately $1,000 euros (about $1,120 US dollars) per day.

When evaluating pay and demand, it’s important to remember that nothing is guaranteed. 

The market for agile coaches is rapidly changing which creates an uncertain future. 

My fellow agile coaches and I predicted that during the next U.S. recession there will be a massive shakeout of independent agile coaches. Only two groups will survive: the coaches who have personal brands and the lowest-cost coaches.

Our goal after meeting was to provide clear, verifiable, high-quality data with minimal interpretation or opinion so everyone could make decisions about their careers. We plan to continue building the largest and highest-quality database of agile coaching compensation. So, if you would like to contribute, please complete this form

The more we all participate in transparency together, the more we can help coaches ensure they are fairly compensated. 

How Expanding Your Circle Of Awareness Is An Effective Business Exercise

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You might be miserable at work because you don’t know what makes you happy.

Hear me out. Professional self-awareness means knowing your own feelings and needs—knowing how you work best, what your goals are, and what accomplishments make you happiest. Listening to those needs and acting on them will make you feel more connected to the work you do every day.

But ignoring, or worse, glossing over them, can lead to misery.

This happens to people constantly. We’re taught from a young age to follow what others expect from us—listen to the teacher, parents, and babysitter. Then it becomes “listen to the boss” and we lose ourselves. We learn our wants and needs don’t really matter. People end up working in situations they hate but have no idea what they’d rather be doing. They’ve never taken time to ask themselves those crucial questions.

Because few people realize they can follow their own passions.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in agile coaching, everything is done by invitation. We don’t insist anyone listen to us, we ask them if they want to. So, when I’m working with clients stuck in their own misery, it’s crucial I start with, “What do you like?” If their answer is, “I don’t know,” we use that as our starting point. Together, we begin to build their self-awareness.

Because being aware of your wants, needs, and desires will help you find genuine happiness at work, making you more engaged and productive in the long-term.

But first, you have to know what actionable self-awareness looks like.

In their book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradbury and Jean Greaves discuss the critical importance of having a high level of emotional understanding in the workplace.

A low emotional intelligence, or “EQ,” could lead to defensive behavior at work or getting chewed up by your own emotions. You may not understand why you feel a certain way, or why a working relationship isn’t functioning well. All of that frustration and despair can build up and cause problems, such as snapping at coworkers, lashing out, or using anger to try and control a situation.

A high EQ, on the other hand, helps you successfully manage your own emotions as well as your working relationships with success.

Bradbury and Greaves break emotional intelligence into four categories. Successfully growing in each looks slightly different, but is equally crucial to your long-term happiness. For example:

  • Internal Self-Awareness: You know how you feel. This is at the core of all other EQ tasks or skills—without it, you can accomplish little.

  • Self-Management: You know how to manage your emotions and positively direct your behavior. You understand your mental and emotional needs for your work environment and know how to ask they be met by your employer.

  • Social awareness: You empathize easily with your coworkers and their needs. You are able to engage in conversations of varying intensities with a great degree of social grace.

  • Relationship management: You understand the emotions of your coworkers and how to work well with others in any given situation.

Those all sound like attributes of a happy, well-rounded, emotionally adjusted coworker, right? But no one walks into a room fully self-aware and ready to roll.

It takes hard work and a willingness to look closely at your own needs.

The first step to developing an acute EQ and improved self-awareness is digging deep into your own self.

For a lot of people, this is going to be uncomfortable—scary even. Remember: we’ve all been trained to gloss over our own needs in favor of what we’re told to do and who we’re expected to follow. Suddenly ripping away that protective layer to follow your own direction is terrifying.  

To ease the fear, arm yourself with knowledge. Make your needs and happiness an exam you can’t afford to fail—literally. Taking personality tests can help do more than kill time on a slow work day. Assessments like Meyers-Briggs and the Enneagram aren’t foolproof science, but they can provide insights into aspects of your personality you may miss on your own.  

For example, according to the Meyers-Briggs test, I’m an ISFJ, also known as The Defender. This means I’m sensitive but analytical, reserved, but good with people. Essentially, I’m just the right collection of letters to be an agile coach, but without knowing myself, I may have ended up on an entirely different career path.

After you’ve done the work, take notes and have them ready.

A “User Manual” for managing you as an employee can be a huge asset both for your own self-awareness and your employer.

And this doesn’t have to be an actual full-on 50 page PDF. It can be one page with a few bullet points that address your work style, your values, your growing edge, etc.  

For example, my user manual tells my current or future colleagues that I most value inner peace, stability, and openness, while also alerting them that when I am the most frustrated, I can lash out emotionally. Now, that’s a seriously vulnerable thing to tell someone you work with. Fear of judgment may make people less likely to take a risk like that.

But without taking risks, you can’t grow. You can’t create the best possible space for your own progress. And the whole point of developing self-awareness is to do better for yourself. The more you understand yourself, the better chance you have of being in situations where you can thrive—with or without a user manual.

Self-Care Is The Single Most Important Thing Agile Coaches Should Prioritize

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Being an everyday changemaker takes a toll.

The mental and emotional energy required for guiding groups in the shift away from bad habits, toxic ways of thinking, or learned behaviors can be exhausting. I see it all the time in the agile coaching community.

It’s not uncommon for a coach to work with an organization that is particularly difficult, or worse yet, doesn’t want to change. You can orchestrate team exercises, lead emotional conversations, or practice impossible scenarios until the building shuts down, but if the group doesn’t want to take necessary steps, you’re not going to accomplish anything. And, unfortunately, the first person agile coaches typically blame for failure is themselves. 

From first-hand experience, I can tell you some coaches feel worthless and ashamed when they can’t help a team.

But you can’t carry around those negative feelings. You have to find a way to process, address, or diminish them. If not, all the negativity can develop into significant long-term physical and emotional issues. This is why, after 10 years as an agile coach, I’ve found self-care to be one of the most important items on my daily list.

Now, self-care may seem like a nebulous concept to apply to your professional life. What do meditations and yoga have to do with Agile and Scrum? But actually, self-care simply means making mental and emotional space to ready yourself for the day ahead—and to unwind after.

If you’re not sure what that could look like for you, here are a few things I’ve found work for me: 

Find what makes you feel cared for, then build a routine around it.

A couple of years ago, I discovered restorative yoga.

It’s a school of yoga where you hold certain positions for several minutes, I tried it for the first time on a whim, because bodywork has always been a successful form of self-care for me. After that session I was stunned. I could not believe how relaxed my body was, how good I felt, and how re-energized and ready I was the next day.

So now, I build restorative yoga into my regular routine, and I try to maintain it at least 90% of the time.

Of course, like with any good schedule, I really try to give myself what I need based on how relaxed or stressful the week is. During smooth weeks, I might not need to do as much restorative yoga to stay balanced. But during rough or busy weeks, I’ll increase the amount of bodywork I do. For example, not too long ago, I had several challenging sessions with a handful of clients, one right after the other. So instead of making time each day to do a few minutes of restorative yoga, I carved out my entire weekend for it. I went to a Japanese bathhouse and dedicated two hours to hot, then cold alternations. And to cap it off, I did 90 minutes worth of breathing exercises. All with the intention of bringing myself back to a place of equilibrium.

When you start to take care of yourself with the same devotion as you would a problem at work, or a big project for an important client, you’ll set yourself up for success over the long term. And especially after a particularly hectic week, a few restorative practices can help you come back first thing Monday morning, ready to go.

Don’t cave to the stigma surrounding self-care—taking time to breathe never hurt anyone.

A huge reason coaches shove aside self-care is because they “don’t have time.”

But the issue isn’t actually time. It’s fear. Coaches may be worried they’ll be criticized for taking ten minutes to do a short meditation or just breathe. People may think you’re a weakling for getting distracted from delivery. And that’s not a vulnerability many of us are comfortable with.

However, with a shifting workforce, comes a shifting attitude. Millennials and their younger counterparts, Generation Z, are much more accepting of self-care. In fact, they lean into it so hard they’re twice as likely to spend money on it than their Baby Boomer or Gen X colleagues.

And it’s not all yoga and Headspace apps. Your self-care moment can be going for a walk, making a fresh cup of coffee, sitting in the sun in silence, or going for a lunch-break jog through downtown. It’s worth noting self-care can be short and sweet too. Not everyone is going to dedicate an entire weekend to breathing and meditation—I get that. 

What matters is you find something that makes you feel cared for and helps you reset from the stress of your work environment—regardless of what anyone else may say about it. 

Self-care addresses a need before you reach a crisis point.

Look, a lot has been said in the media about burnout in the tech sphere: it’s an epidemic, we did it to ourselves, it’s unavoidable, etc.

But the truth is, burnout hurts you. Period. And that’s why you need to take steps to prevent it, nevermind productivity.

Sometimes, it can’t be avoided. Our schedules get full, our patience wears thin, and we simply don’t make the time for self-care that we should on a daily basis. For me, suffering from burnout can be soothed with a few simple actions:

  • Look at the why: I ask myself why I’m feeling burnt out and get to the root of the problem. If it’s an action within my control, I aim to not repeat it again.

  • Hit the basics: Your mind needs to recover just like your body does. I make sure to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, and exercise regularly when recovering.

  • Rest: Whether this means a long weekend at home or an actual vacation, you have to actually relax in order to come back to work with any energy.

Obviously, you don’t have to do every piece of self-care I’ve mentioned all the time, but choosing three or four off a list and building a routine for them will keep you happy and healthy. And coming to work as your best self every day can only serve both you and your teams in the long run.

4 Reasons Why Following The White Male Example Actually Doesn’t Work

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There are two predominant examples of management styles in the business world today—one is a problem, one is the future. 

The first is what I call the “white male” style of management. It has a distinctly authoritarian feel to it, with one person at the top providing the answers and dictating what everyone else does each day. That individual tends to yell at problems, rarely checks in with his or her team, and is rewarded for tough love. It’s important to note that while not always the case, this person may statistically be a white man—72% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies fit that bill.  

Though strangely popular, this style isn’t effective.

What does work well in management relationships is a tenet of agile coaching that focuses on growing people and meeting their needs. It’s called “servant leadership.” Here, the leader isn’t a grand king presiding over subjects and issuing decrees. Instead, the goal is to ensure the people around them grow and perform to the best of their abilities. There are no demands—just flexible, authentic conversations. To me, this is the future of management.

Yet we continue to reward the white male culture management style—even when women and people of color are in those roles. 

If we want to move toward the servant leadership management method, we have to understand how the white male model goes directly against creating the best possible workplace for everyone:

1. White male culture rewards sameness instead of individuality.

The ways we measure anyone who isn’t a part of the white male culture in the office eerily echoes current political campaign criticisms.

For example, a woman who demands straightforward answers from her superiors, or refuses to answer questions about her home life during an interview, is “bitchy.” But a man who behaves the same way is “commanding.” The problem with this view is that we lose great ideas from diverse experts if we’re conditioned to only accept new information from one type of person. And only one type of person is ever going to continue speaking if we make it impossible for differences to cross barriers.

One way in which servant leadership techniques address this is via individualization. Each team member is given the attention, space, and time to speak and be heard. Instead of succumbing to generalizations and fast-paced assumptions, teams operate at a slower pace, giving rise to specificity—allowing for a deeper manager-team relationship with greater connection.

2. White male culture perpetuates existing double standards instead of addressing them. 

Men are far more likely than women to apply for a job where they only meet 60% of the qualifications.

The end result is that more men get hired for senior positions because the ratio of men to women who apply is skewed. Now, it may be fine to run a business with only one type of person, but companies stagnate when not fostering a diversity of thought—and there are studies that prove it.

Additionally, this double-standard creates a vicious cycle where similar types of people get leadership positions and diverse voices are frequently driven out. 

To shift this dynamic, servant leadership management can be employed to create a more inclusive environment. In a 2016 analysis, researchers found that “servant leadership embodies an inclusive leadership philosophy that is in a position to facilitate feelings of belongingness and uniqueness among diverse employees.” 

Instead of perpetuating double-standards, servant leadership addresses them head-on.

3. White male culture considers leaders who cater to employee needs as weak when really it’s their greatest strength.

Servant leadership doesn’t mean kneeling at your employee’s feet, offering them grapes. It means attempting to see other’s perspectives—listening, empathizing, collaborating—instead of falling prey to a culture that argues over who is right. You try to come to an agreement together. 

But they don’t teach this in school—the very notion of empathy is considered a weakness, even though it’s critical to building a great culture. I frequently work with clients who are entirely logic and data-driven. They do calculations, maximize profits, and ignore the human needs of the people they work with, creating a leadership style which puts profits over people. Employees don’t feel heard, valued, or fulfilled—feelings which are at the root of many of the problems agile coaches are called in to solve.

However, a 2014 study found that servant leadership built stronger relationships with the people in charge, and in return, fostered a greater level of creativity and innovation. By tapping into emotional needs and addressing their employees with a softer, more personal touch, leaders in this study saw better results from their team.

4. Talent spreads itself equally across the universe; opportunity doesn’t.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, a common response in white male cultures is, “I hire for qualifications, not for representation.”

Unfortunately, a common belief is that if more diverse candidates were “qualified,” they’d be in positions of power. This thinking is a fallacy because it doesn’t account for the inherent privileges rewarded and enforced in many organizations. 

White men appear to have the most opportunity of any group in the country, so the balance is in their favor. 

There’s a famous metaphor that explains how this works: Different groups of people are running a race but start at different points on the track. Everyone is running toward the same finish line, but white men simply start the race much closer to it than everyone else. 

It’s not to say white men don’t work hard—they simply have an advantage over everyone else from the start.

Which is why it’s the responsibility of men in the white male culture to find ways to pay attention to voices not as easily heard as their own. If you are a white man reading this piece, I’d urge you to be cognizant of the power you hold and find ways to bring others forward with you. Consider the tenants of agile and servant leadership as you look for ways to focus on the needs of the individual and help your team live up to their potential. 

Even if you get a head start, it doesn’t mean you have to cross the finish line alone.

Break Free Of The Maze: How To Believe The Impossible And Promote Greater Solutions Within Your Team

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We’ve been taught a certain line of thinking since we were in grade school. 

Listen to the teacher. Follow the rules. Generally, behave yourself. And the kid who goes outside those boundaries, who tears up their textbook, for example, gets punished. 

But that disruptive kid is actually far more likely to learn to innovate. 

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article on how to think like the next Steve Jobs, “Innovators excel at connecting the unconnected.” Impossible scenario exercises prompt this line of thinking by looking at different, potentially unconsidered aspects of a problem. At its core, using impossible scenarios is a form of creative problem-solving not so different from lateral thinking or Hegelian Dialectic. You have to be willing to engage with the what-ifs, the out-there’s, the “that sounds insane” strategies in order to prevent getting stuck in the same iterative pattern. 

As an agile coach, I frequently lead sessions in which I help people talk through impossible scenarios as a way to break free of their societal constraints. Through a series of exercises borrowed from different creative fields, teams learn to stop self-censoring, embrace criticism, and learn that what they think is impossible, is really just what no one else has tried yet. 

When it comes to thinking through impossible scenarios, there’s a really famous example that agile coaches come back to again and again. 

There are two mice in a maze, each seeking out cheese at the end. All of society focuses on helping the first mouse find the cheese. They complement that mouse, cheer it on the entire way. But the second mouse is willing to let go of that praise and go their own route. 

They break free of the maze and move on to greater rewards than are contained in the maze—like the rest of the cheese wheel resting on the counter. 

Essentially, what this story illustrates is that you can choose one of two paths when solving a problem. You can follow the rules and restrictions placed upon you and go the traditional route for a small reward. Or you can take the considerably larger risk of refusing all expectations and going your own way. 

And you know what they say about “The bigger the risk.” 

But going against the norm has consequences. Leaving the maze might mean getting zapped when you bump up against the fence—and breaking free of societal constraints, metaphorically speaking, is no different. You’re going to get pushback. You’re going to run the risk of “missing out” on the short-term cheese. But it’s this fear that keeps so many people stuck within the maze in the first place. Which is why, as agile coaches, it’s our job to help people feel comfortable imagining these “impossible scenarios” to begin with. 

One thing I try to do in agile sessions is normalizing the line of thinking that leads to breaking free of the maze. 

For example, I’ll ask a team, “What is the biggest rule you’ve broken?” People worry about getting punished or reprimanded for answering honestly. But what I try to emphasize during this exercise is that, provided no one gets hurt, it’s okay to break the rules now and again. I ask my team to think of rules that may be antiquated or feel arbitrary—like ripping the tag off your mattress, for example. 

By tapping into our inner rule-breaker, we learn to stop self-censoring good ideas before they’ve even started.

But those walls take a while to break down. It goes little by little. 

One way I work on this with teams within companies big and small is I’ll start out with a “ritual dissent” exercise using myself as the example. So, I’ll provide a few minutes of coaching in which they just listen to me. Then, I’ll turn around and invite the team to give me feedback that is purposefully exaggerated. The importance of the exercise here is my back is turned—it depersonalizes the exercise and makes it so the team learns to get more comfortable delivering feedback to authority figures. Some examples, I’ve heard include, “Michael, you are the worst agile coach I’ve ever seen,” or “You did a terrible job facilitating this meeting.” In the end, people generally say they had a hard time completing the exercise. They worry about saying something mean, hurting my feelings, speaking up. 

And this is where we break through the maze.

I’ll tell the team, “It’s okay to say these things. This is the way we learn to speak up for ourselves.” You don’t always have to say something that feels “mean,” but you should be more comfortable removing your own self-censoring so you can contribute to critical feedback. And then once the team is comfortable with this small act of rebellion—criticizing the coach, essentially—then we keep doing it until it becomes second nature. 

Unlearning self-censorship is like training a muscle. You have to keep practicing in order to keep it up. So, as a group, we’ll continue to do exercises, invite feedback, maintain non-judgments. I remind them constantly that anything goes. And the more we switch between divergence and convergence, the more the team learns to just let go and say whatever comes to mind.

The goal is to gain fluidity of ideas—the crazier, the better.

Sometimes that means asking the team, “How would Thor solve this problem?” 

Once the brain’s machinery is primed for flexible thinking, then we can start shifting perspectives to look at issues with a new lens. 

My favorite, silly exercise is to ask the team to think of their favorite superhero. Then we ask, “How would that hero solve this problem?” To stick with Thor as the example, we could ask, “Would Thor smash things with his hammer as a solution?” If yes, what good does that do? If no, how else might he approach things? If the group doesn’t have a favorite superhero, then I might ask them to consider the issue from the perspective of their favorite celebrity or household pet or even ice cream flavor. 

It’s absurd, yes. But it gets people to think about solutions in an entirely different way than they’re used to. And that’s the point. It’s only when we’re free of the maze, that we’re free to solve any issue, anyway, we please. 

Considering the impossible as plausible helps people get un-stuck. They’re able to shift away from the conventional and find their own path. And that’s how teams innovate. By refusing to follow a set course, even if it’s a winding, twisting maze. It’s by realizing that, at the end of the day, really, nothing is impossible.

Beyond The Razzle Dazzle: Why Your Company Needs Agile Coaching, Not A Management Consultant

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If you’ve encountered a business hurdle you can’t solve on your own, you’ve probably considered hiring a management consultant.

Common wisdom dictates they’ll help you move faster, work better, and find the perfect solution to streamline your process. But all their long hours and sleek PowerPoints won’t solve your problem long-term.

Because much of what management consultants do is for show.

In a very revealing article for Harvard Business Review, Professors Alaric Bourgoin and Jean-Francois Harvey point out all the ways consultants essentially “fake it ‘till they make it.” They rely on shared industry knowledge to sound like experts. They stay late and arrive early so you think they’re working harder than you. And those “million dollar PowerPoints” with clean lines and actionable solutions are most likely upcycled from previous clients.

Although Bourgoin and Harvey note this behavior as a hazard of the consulting profession, that still hasn’t changed the fact that it’s a $256 billion industry focused on treating the symptoms of a business issue opposed to addressing the source of the problem.

Agile coaching, on the other hand, seeks to increase the capability of an organization to solve its own problems. Where consultants enter a situation and immediately begin dishing out solutions, commands, and advice, an agile coach works with the company to identify the root of workflow problems and improve flexibility.

Most importantly, agile coaches want to put your people at the helm of change—not an outsider.

As an agile coach for more than 20 years, and only 1 of about 100 Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coaches in the world, I’ve seen first hand the dramatic difference our approach can make. By valuing your people as your greatest asset, you’ll create long-term, actionable change that promotes exponential growth for your business.  

But for this to work, businesses need to be willing to function in tandem with an agile coach and not expect the consultant experience. Otherwise, both sides will experience a catastrophe.

So, before you leap into a new agile coaching session, here are a few things you should consider:

1. Agile coaches work with pre-existing needs instead of creating new ones.

As a business leader, you don’t need to be told how important change is—you already know.

And yet, a management consultant often strives to stir up a sense of urgency around change.   

This old-school line of thought was led by John Kotter, a big name in business theory and management consulting. Kotter always said creating urgency was the first thing you should do when working with a company. But in reality, “creating urgency” is based on fear. For example, maybe your team would benefit from improved workplace dynamics, tightened workflows, or simply finding better ways to communicate.

No amount of standing over people’s shoulders and telling them to change (“with urgency”) is going to solve the root of any of those problems.

Instead, agile coaches tap into pre-existing desires. They don’t step in and say, “This is what’s urgent.” They listen and ask, “What do you want to improve?” And more important, “How do you want to improve it?”

Then, and only then, can you and your team find the most efficient way forward together.  

2. Agile coaching removes the middle man, helping you foster strong internal relationships.

Few people will volunteer themselves for conflict, so it’s tempting to have a consultant step in and do all the talking for you.  

I was recently working with a Senior Vice President (SVP) who was going through this exact scenario. He hired someone who would talk with his teams, report back what was said, and then make recommendations. I couldn’t believe he refused to speak with his team directly.

What happens in a communication funnel like this is it creates a parasitic relationship. An outside influence is all of sudden needed to communicate with your team—and without it things may fall apart. You lose your power as a leader. Instead, the management consultant runs the show. And that’s not the way to win big.

The best wins come from the people in the company.

Remember: your people are your experts. They already know best, you just have to get them to talk to you. An agile coach can help push the right buttons and open the right channels to start the necessary conversations without getting in the middle.

3. Agile coaching puts people over profits.

For the greatest success, your company needs to value people as humans.  

We’ve all seen how massively a company can fail if they don’t. Valeant Pharmaceuticals, for example, was under fire for gouging drug prices—they upped the cost of a vital prescription to 5500% of its original cost in a single night. They’ve since endured major rebranding as a way to shake off all the scandal.

They brought on McKinsey management consulting. The problem with agencies like McKinsey is they’re most interested in companies that make money at whatever cost. They aren’t in tune with the way the world is moving—valuing human agency over treating people as disposable.

Conversely, a human-centric approach inspires and values true innovation.

Agile coaches can help companies understand where their ethical boundaries are, and then operate in a way that honors them. By feeling valued and needed, teams will feel more capable to disrupt the world around them. Without that sense, they may feel like just another cog in a machine.

And cogs rarely lead to innovation.    

To put things simply: you hire an agile coach to keep your people happy. You hire a management consultant to keep Wall Street happy.  

By listening to your people, needs, goals and challenges, agile coaches help you to create the best solutions internally. We facilitate but don’t dictate, allowing you to innovate the way you’re meant to. This keeps companies growing and functioning, without the need for a consultant six months down the road. In fact, our goal as coaches is to never see you again—we have nothing to gain from your failure.

And that may be the biggest difference between a consultant and a coach—true investment in your success.  

3 Ways Agile Coaches Use Technology To Improve Teaching Techniques, Cater To Client Needs, And Reach A Global Audience

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I am one of only 100 Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise coaches in the entire world.

That means, if every country in the world sought out one single certified enterprise agile coach, there still wouldn’t be enough of us to fill that need. Now consider how many companies are based in a single country, multiply that by the number of countries in the world (apparently there are 195), and you start to realize the dilemma agile coaches face: how do we effectively scale ourselves?

The answer is simple: technology.  

Advancements such as video conference calls, simple as they may be, have allowed us coaches the ability (and, quite frankly, the luxury) of scaling our services, streamlining client sessions, and expanding our reach across the globe. And personally, I strive to work with as many amazing clients as possible, regardless of their location (or sometimes, even their means), which is why I look to technology for different levels of accessibility.

For example, in addition to working with major corporations or heavily-funded startups in person, I also provide online training courses at a lower price point in order to serve a wider range of companies. This exposes people to agile who may want the education, but don’t work for a corporate entity that has a budget to spend on daily in-person sessions.

And in turn, by expanding my reach, I’m able to diversify my professional experience—which only improves the skills and industry awareness I bring to the table during each in-person session.

Here are a few examples of how technology’s progression has improved the way agile coaches are able to scale their expertise across a wide variety of clients:

1. Virtual Reality makes it possible to provide immersive experiences from anywhere in the world.  

VR may be the only tool that supplants actual practice.

The heightened learning experience that comes from an in-person workshop is very difficult to re-create through a website or even a video course. That’s because in-person workshopping provides feedback, and feedback is how human beings ultimately learn what’s working and what isn’t in real time. With Virtual Reality, however, those feedback loops can be constructed and scaled in a way that feels nearly identical to an in-person workshop, while simultaneously customizing the experience specifically for the individual user.

For example, I’ll sometimes coach agile sessions and film the crowd with a 360 camera. Afterward, I’ll go back and study the footage, zooming in on individual faces during key moments to gauge reactions and then provide even more personalized feedback to the speaker.

I can see immediately what worked and what didn’t.

To streamline my own internal workshopping, I also use Virtual Speech, a VR company that places you in a digital auditorium to practice your public speaking. These are tools and practices I’ve found to be tremendously productive, in the sense that you can run through only the part of a presentation that needs work—unlike in a real session where you’d need to run from start to finish to test the new section.

So, instead of spending 99% of your time rehearsing material you’ve already mastered, and 1% of the time re-working your weak points, VR provides the opportunity to spend 100% of your time on tweaking what needs refinement.   

2. On-site materials can be “scaled” by using technology platforms that can be accessed from anywhere.

Having Ready Materials On-Site Makes Coaching Sessions More Effective

The greatest tool in my arsenal is a technology platform called Mind Settlers.

This is an extensive library of crowdsourced, actionable ideas and exercises that offer agile coaches a way to improve (and scale) the way they work with teams. For example, instead of having to reconstruct exercises from scratch for each individual coaching client or team, I can pull from a curated selection through the Mind Settlers technology platform that caters to the specific needs within that particular company.

For example, I may be ready to talk about “goal alignment,” but the team wants to discuss “connection.” Part of the mindset in agile coaching is being able to adjust on the fly, while still maintaining a clear focus on the underlying issues that need to be resolved within each team.

So the benefit of technology here is that, as a coach, I can trust that plenty of exercises will be available to me regardless of the topic area, which allows me to spend more time and energy bringing my own expertise to the situation.

Especially when you’re working with so many different teams and companies, these little adjustments that save time really do add up.

3. Online resources are how you’re able to work with parts of the world you would otherwise never reach.

I constantly ask myself how many people I help every day.

But in the realm of agile coaching, one of the only ways to truly “scale” this desire to work with and help as many people as possible is to work with major corporations or large-scale teams in person. I’ll frequently go into companies of hundreds, if not thousands of employees, and work across departments to streamline processes, improve communication, and ultimately increase employee connection and fulfillment. But even still, the amount of time, money, and energy required to fly to a company’s headquarters and stay for months  (or more) isn’t very realistic for a large sector of the general population. Especially considering the overwhelming majority of businesses in the U.S., but also the world, are small businesses.

So, I look to other technology platforms to expand my reach and continue spreading my knowledge—even if the reader, listener, or customer doesn’t fall within that Fortune 500 group.

Specifically, I look to do this through digital publications and social media platforms. For example, this article here is essentially a “free resource” specific to the agile world—which people from all over the world could read for free. LinkedIn is another great example, and I’ll often use that platform as a way to digitally expand my own personal network through sharing helpful articles like this one, sharing thoughts or tips in the form of status updates, and sending connection requests to people I feel like would benefit from some of the lessons I’ve learned “in the trenches.”

Essentially, in all the ways technology makes agile coaching easier, it also makes it more accessible. And since reaching the greatest number of people possible is my goal as a coach in the first place, it would be impossible to live that mission while solely basing my success off in-person coaching.

Which is why I invest in sharing assets like this article here, with you.

6 Exercises To Improve Team Collaboration, Co-Founder Synergy, And Employee Happiness

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One of the biggest misconceptions about agile coaching is that, as coaches, we’re “product delivery problem solvers."

But in my 10+ years as an enterprise agile coach, I’ve learned that the problem is very rarely the product delivery itself. It’s the team. And what keeps company product delivery from being smooth, well-managed, and effective has far more to do with the underlying interpersonal issues clogging workflow in the first place.

For example, one of the startups I work with as an agile coach is 100% remote. Everyone is distributed across the country far away from one another, which means they don’t get the opportunity to work “together” every day. Recently they did an internal survey to find out what employees felt were “major issues” for the company, and the number one answer was loneliness.  

That might seem entirely unrelated to “improving product delivery,” but you have to remember that team members are humans. They bring emotions into everything they do—including work. And when those tender things get blocked or restrained, it exhausts a significant amount of energy that could be used more efficiently during the workday.

Here are a few exercises I’ve found to help bring underlying issues to the surface while promoting inter-team connection:

1)  60 Seconds Of Eye Contact

For your team to work at its absolute best, you have to be willing to “stare” feelings in the face.

I like to have teams break up into pairs and then have each pair make direct, unbroken eye contact with their partner for 60 seconds.

If this sounds uncomfortable, that’s because it is.

It’s intense.

I frequently see people say, “Okay this is too much,” and they have to stop—which is okay. I give them 100% permission to do that if they need to. But I also remind them their discomfort is something to be curious about. Here they are, building a startup together, but they’re challenged by staring into one another’s eyes for 60 seconds. What else could be possible if they could see each other more holistically?

2) #NoSecrets

Everyone has an “on stage” person. This is the version of ourselves we expose to the world.

Very rarely do others see the “backstage” person—the real us.

But maintaining two separate personas like this is draining. It’s exhausting to think about which mask you have to wear at work today, or which parts of your personality are “okay” to show other people. And many times, the things we keep secret don’t need to be guarded in the first place.

The #NoSecrets exercise is about closing the gap between what we present to people, and who we really are. I ask team members to pair up with someone and disclose one secret they’ve never told anyone else that they’d be willing to share.

This accomplishes two things: it frees up energy in the workplace, and it initiates problem-solving.

For example, I might say, “Look. I've been sneaking out at lunch to do 30 minutes of gym time. I'm afraid of getting fired if I tell anyone about it.” But when I confess, it turns out the team is completely understanding of wanting to take a mid-day break, and there’s no reason for secrecy. And as a result, I free up energy toward other things (rather than hiding an activity), and my teammates get to know me a little better.

3) Sitting With Emotions To Discharge Them

Another waste of energy at work is suppressing emotions, which is what we usually do when we experience shame, anger or jealousy.

The question is, how do we actually experience those emotions in a way that's freeing? Where we can let go of them, metabolize them?

One way is simply sitting with them physically.

In this exercise, I ask team members to think about an enjoyable situation. I ask them what feelings that situation invokes and where those emotions show up in their body. Maybe they feel relaxation is in their legs, or joy in their chest.

Next, I ask team members to do the opposite and think about an unenjoyable situation. Maybe it’s when your boss is yelling at you, which triggers tension in your throat.

Most of us don’t realize how we naturally react this way to stressful moments throughout the day, and often want to distance ourselves from these types of feelings, and block them off to make it stop.

So during this exercise, what people are doing is sitting with that tension—just for a moment. They have to feel it, and pay attention to what other feelings come up along the way.

To complete the exercise, I say, “Now let’s go back to your enjoyable moment.” And together, we switch back and forth between relaxation and tension, which helps process the emotion actively and purposefully.

4) One Answer On A Sticky Note

One simple question I love to ask everyone is, “What are you optimizing for?”

Teams almost always give me some off-the-cuff answer with little thought. “I want this, I want that, these are my goals.”

But remember: you’re optimizing for one thing, not twenty. And in order to figure out our single most important metric, I lead groups in an exercise that narrows down those twenty needs to one.

We start in silence.

I ask the question, “What are we optimizing for?” In order to avoid a flurry of shouted answers (and potential disagreements), everyone writes their individual answer down on a sticky note. Depending on the scenario, we'll either process all of the sticky notes together, or we'll pair up and two people will talk to each other to create a single combined answer. And we’ll do this in bigger and bigger groups until finally there’s a single statement everyone actually agrees on.

5) Resolving Founder Conflict

The number one reason startups fail is they have founder conflict.

Founders tend to have different ideas of what “good” looks like—meaning what workflow is effective, how people are meshing, the rate at which tasks are accomplished. They frequently hold on to the “good” from when they were in the dorm room, coding together at the beginning of their company. But what’s good for a company in its beginning phases doesn’t remain “good” 10 years down the line—and founders sometimes fail to recognize how things have changed.

I bring them back to earth with Legos.

In this exercise, I’ll give teams five Lego pieces and ask them to build a car. They’ll do it instantly. After that, when they’re confident they know the most effective way to build a Lego car, I’ll give them 500 pieces to do it again. Once they get started, the teams will notice they can’t accomplish the same task in the same way with more parts—they need an entirely new plan.

And building a company works similarly.

If you have five people in the company, you know everyone's names, their needs, their wants. When you have 500 people in the company, things change. You need to establish infrastructure and processes that accommodate growth. The Lego comparison really drives home the fact that different situations require a shift in mindset and management. You can’t cling to what things “used to be,” or you’ll never move forward successfully.

6) Speak In Code

How we communicate can sometimes cause more problems than it solves.

You may be asking for help, but the way the other person hears it, you’re just giving an update. Or worse, you may need to make a decision quickly, but the decision maker doesn’t feel your sense of urgency.

Because of these common mixups, one of the most important exercises I do is around creating syntax standards.

I’ll work with teams to create a specific piece of text to use in certain situations—most frequently when asking for help or for a decision. Language signifiers help clarify the intent of the conversation, saving time and energy for all parties. People will be able to think, for example, “Whenever I need a decision from anyone in the company, it's going to have [DECISION] in the subject line of the email.”  

It simplifies a daily need to the point of lightning speed, making the team—and the company—considerably more agile.

This article originally appeared on Crunchbase.

4 Things Decision Makers Get Wrong When Hiring An Agile Coach For Their Organization

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People often mistake agile coaches for mechanics that can “fix” businesses.

When a company is struggling with efficiency, or transparency between departments, or even just internal communication at large, a decision maker within the organization will reach out to someone like me to help them streamline efficiencies. For context, I am one of approximately one hundred Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coaches (CECs) in the world, and I specialize in working with enterprises often managing hundreds, if not thousands of employees.

The problem, however, is that I am not a mechanic. If you have a broken car, you bring it to a mechanic and they fix it before handing it back to you. However, when a company realizes they have a broken structure or process for their team, they think they can do the same thing: bring their broken process to an agile coach who will “fix” it and then hand it back.

And that’s just not how it works.

Working with an agile coach is about creating a partnership in which someone like me brings their expertise to the group to create a frictionless and self-evolving team environment. And that partnership is leagues away from the one you form with a consultant—or a mechanic.

Instead, here’s how the process is intended to go:

1) We make a plan together.

Where a consultant solves a problem for the client, an agile coach solves it with them.

My entire value is to create a solution where the client has three-quarters of the pieces and I have one. My job is to then bring new problem-solving and relationship-building techniques to the table so that it’s not just the immediate list of problems that get solved, but all future problems as well (otherwise I would be on retainer for a very, very long time).

In the agile community, we call this the coaching relationship agreement, and it’s a fundamental piece of what we do.

In this agreement, we’re careful to be very explicit about what the customer's outcomes are. For example, it may be, "I want to deliver this software product on time, I want my people to be happier, and I want to have a clearer understanding of the customer." Then we look at the activities we can do to help them achieve those goals. We also take the metrics into consideration: where are we today and where do we want to be six months from now?

This gives us a list of activities, a coaching transformation log, and measurable goals we can achieve together. Then, we check in periodically to see if we’re actually moving toward those goals. If not, we change things.

2) It’s not just about delivering a product—it’s about developing a culture.

A huge issue I see again and again in coaching is what I like to call “culture blindness.”

Someone will say, "Make sure my team releases on time. And you should do it by making sure that they're estimating correctly, the requirements are correct, et cetera." But what's actually happening is the Chief Architect and the Chief Product Owner hate each other.

In short: there’s usually a surface problem—and then the actual issue lying under it.

The typical focus is on solving the surface problem as quickly as possible without addressing the underlying issue. But that deeper conflict tends to be harder to solve—things like safety, trust, shared understanding, alignment.

In an effort to get teams to look beneath the surface, a very simple exercise I do is bringing together the executive group and saying, "So, what is the goal here?" Each person will write on a sticky note, silently, and we'll just look up and see if the goals match. If they don’t, then we’ll say, “Oh, okay, that's because different people in the organization want different things.” Point being, it doesn't really matter what we're doing at the technical level if the VPs aren't agreeing on what it is they actually want.

That means one of them will always be losing—and that’s a huge blind spot.

3) A team’s underlying emotional issues can have major impacts.

In order to be frictionless internally, a team needs to be aligned. We should be glowing when we’re doing the right thing. But that also means addressing personal blocks in addition to what’s slowing down the company.

For example, one personal block I had for a long time was that I thought my father was better than me, and, therefore, I shouldn't make more money than he did. I'd get close to making as much money as him, and then I would self-sabotage. This is a common issue for many people—we learn dysfunctional behaviors from our family and then bring them to the workplace.

The challenge is these things tend to be deeply buried, so we may not even know they’re there.

But finding ways to address personal blocks can lead to seamless work and a sense of congruence. And what I mean by that is a sense that what you’re doing is what you love. It may be so frictionless to do this work that it’s almost soothing.

A beautiful example of congruence is Tom Brady, the Patriots player (who just won another Super Bowl). His dad has said that what sets Tom apart from his peers is he loves everything about football—even the parts other players hate. He loves watching tape, doing the workouts, following the diet. Tom has said before he watches tape for three or four hours a day because it’s soothing for him.

This type of complete and total congruence is the goal of agile coaching. Then there’s no resistance with any person, customer, or project.

That’s purity. That’s oneness. And it comes from getting through your own emotional blockage.

4) Numbers are important—but not in the way you think.

A lot of clients will come to agile coaching because they think their quality of X (whether it’s a product, a service, a process, etc.) is terrible.

But when I ask them how terrible, they’re never able to answer. In my 10 years of coaching, I’ve never had a company answer that question.

What it actually comes down to is the team has “bad memories.” They launched a product and were miserable the entire time, or felt unappreciated at the end of a project. But in order to figure out what was making everyone so unhappy, we still need those numbers. And it can take months to sort through all the data simply to get a snapshot of how things are working.

So, I usually start people off with a set metrics dashboard that includes finding answers to the following questions:

  • How much? As in, how many “widgets” are you producing each week?

  • How fast? How long does it take to create that item from the second the conversation starts to when it’s finished?

  • How good? What’s the quality?

  • How predictable? If you tell a customer to expect an item within a certain number of days, how frequently do you meet that deadline?

  • How happy? Is your team happy and is your culture healthy?

As an example of these questions in action, I worked at a large Fortune 500 company that literally spent three months doing annual planning across a 3000 person organization. And all the director level people and engineers were involved in it, but they absolutely hated it. They would produce 200-page PowerPoints from their meeting. So, I asked the planning group, "What is the relationship between the plan and those PowerPoints?" And the answer was, "There isn't one."

I’ve learned, in moments like these, you have to really question why teams are doing what they’re doing—and if certain activities don’t add enough value or move the needle, stop. And as a result, people become less irritated, have more free time, and ultimately feel like the work they are doing has purpose. And that’s the goal.