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By Roy Schilling
At one point in my career, I was a manager in a large financial organization. Being tired of missed deadlines and disappointed customers, I wanted a better way to deliver – faster, better, cheaper. I had been reading about Agile and how it had helped organizations with exactly what I was looking to solve.
My Agile journey started pretty much like everyone else – hours on the internet and a 2-day class. At the end of the class, I was the proud owner of a certificate and had a high-level of confidence that I could implement this Agile thing in my organization. I quickly looked for a project, formed my team and started executing – now we’re Agile! The result, however, was something quite different from what I expected. The team never really formed, we had personalities that didn’t work well together, people were getting yanked out of the team for “special assignments”, and a whole host of other anti-patterns which caused us to ultimately fail – and in a big way.
The reality was that I had no idea what I was doing. I had no experience and no one to help set up the guardrails needed to keep the team (and me) headed in the right direction. Sadly, this is a very common situation. Lots of energy, desire, motivation, but no experience to make it work. Training was a great start, but not enough to guarantee success.
I could have walked away with my failure, and declared Agile to be the problem. “It just can’t work in my organization” is something I’ve heard far too often as an excuse for simple mistakes. Instead, I was fortunate enough to have met someone with significant experience in the industry, who offered his help to mentor and coach me. After spending a short time together, we got my team re-aligned, analyzed skill sets and personalities, setup team working agreements and started working with leadership to help them understand their part in all this. In short, he got me back on track.
One of the most important things he helped me with was in becoming a better leader. He helped me understand that I was spending too much time managing down, worrying about “resource allocation” and dealing with the minutia of daily activities. I had hired good people; it was time to get out of their way, let them do their jobs and give them the support they needed to accomplish the goals they set out to achieve. This was a major change from my management style, and one of the most difficult and important lessons I had ever learned as a manager. Without his help, I may never have made that leap.
To summarize, hiring a coach taught me:
- To be an active listener
- To give my team the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done
- To effectively communicate with everyone, and always find the time for face-to-face discussions (and daily stand-ups)
But most importantly,
He taught me how to successfully implement Agile and get everyone on the same page; how to destroy the barriers and bring a new mentality to the company as a whole.
Having a coach to help me through the transformation (personal and organizational) was critical to the success of my organization. Without his involvement, I would likely have had failure after failure, or just walked away from it altogether. The cost to my organization would have been significant due to those failures, and I still would have had disappointed customers.
I’ve since moved on and have become an Agile coach myself, but even with many years’ experience behind me, I still reach out to other coaches and my mentor for advice, and to share my experiences to help others as well.
If you are transforming your organization, or just yourself, take advice from someone who has already gone through it.
Avoid my mistakes – find a coach/mentor, learn from others who have more experience than you, ask for help and embrace your mistakes.