Agile Coach Toolkit #5: Active Listening

Have you ever been in a situation where someone is talking to you and when they ask a question like, “What do you think?” you realize that you were zoned out? At that point, with slight embarrassment, you ask the person to repeat what she/ he just said. It is difficult to maintain focus on listening to a person due to many interruptions and distractions (audible, visual or other senses).

Listening actively to others is one of the most powerful tools you can have for effective coaching. There are 3 levels of listening –

  • Level 1: Internal listening – You tend to listen more to your own inner voice rather than focusing on what is being said. At this point, you may be making opinions or be judgmental.
  • Level 2: Focused listening – At this point you maintain a laser sharp focus on what is said by the person. At this level, you are listening intently to every word and “listening” to every nuance in the conversation.
  • Level 3: Global listening – At this level, you are able to uncover the underlying meaning of the spoken words and are conscious of the emotions of the person. This enables you to connect with the person.

For effective coaching, you need to be at Level 2 and then have the ability to listen at Level 3. At times, you may find yourself drifting to Level 1. In such cases, you will need to make conscious effort to bring yourself back to Level 2 for a meaningful coaching experience.

Tips for Active Listening:

  • Get rid of distractions like mobile phone, laptops or other electronics, move away from noisy places.
  • Before the conversation, become self-aware by taking a moment to assess your mood and clear your thoughts.
  • Maintain an open posture – unfold your arms, unclench your fists and keep good eye contact.
  • Active Listening is difficult to master and requires a lot of practice to get better at it. It is very effective when used with “Asking Powerful Questions”.

Have you used this technique? If yes, please share your story.

References

Agile Coaching – Rachel Davies, Liz Sedley

http://www.coactive.com/learning-hub/fundamentals/res/FUN-Topics/FUN-Co-Active-Coaching-Skills-Listening.pdf

Scrum.org PSF – What, Why, and How?

Certifications and training courses help establish a fact that the participant knows about a subject and can be questioned to ascertain. The Scrum.org, Professional Scrum Foundation (PSF) is one such course that prepares you for the Scrum world.

Here is a straight-to-the-point short post about PSF. Like our course curriculum, trainings, and our consulting, we like to get straight to it than beat around the idea!

 What is PSF?

Professional Scrum Foundations or PSF helps master everyday Scrum duties and responsibilities. This covers the eligibility needed to appear for the prestigious Professional Scrum Master Credential examination.

 Why should I do PSF?

To lead better, function effectively as a Scrum-practitioner, and be a self-organized Scrum player. Without these, effective deliveries of project leave a lot desired. A Scrum master is someone who has to learn to be active and deliver effective value. The PSF foundation course will enable you to attempt the PSM I assessment and prove your mettle.

How do I do PSF?

We at PracticeAgile.com help train our students to learn and master PSF. The course comprises of expert instructions and team based exercises that help you gain mastery over Scrum nitty-gritties, lead teams to collaborate more. We will cover:

  • Fundamentals of Scrum
  • The Scrum Framework
  • Mastering Scrum
  • Planning with Scrum
  • Getting Started and keeping Scrum healthy

It’s a Hands-on workshop where we do scrum from the trenches. An example case study of an HTML based website is carried out, where we build the Website as a Scrum-project over duration of 4 sprints. It helps get first-hand experience on how to deal with dependencies and integration challenges in scaled environment.

Contact us through my linked in presence or drop us a note at Practiceagile.com. Happy to answer any queries you have about PSF. For folks based out of Mumbai, India and nearby areas, we have a training scheduled next week. Check the training calendar to know more and register.

Agile Coach Toolkit #4: Effective Facilitation

As an Agile Coach, you frequently encounter situations which demand quick thinking to get things moving in the right direction. Over time I have found few techniques which come out handy and always keep these in my playbook in case need arise. This is the fourth part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – Effective Facilitation.

Purpose – As a Scrum Master, you will need to facilitate Scrum events, decision making, conflict resolution and other critical discussions. This will require some preparation and deliberation to ensure the goals are met.

Description – Facilitation is needed to ensure that the group works cooperatively and effectively. As a Scrum Master, you will need to take care of a few aspects to help meet the goal(s) of the discussion. Tips for effective facilitation are listed below –

  1. Ensure that everyone participating in the discussion understand its purpose. You would need to set the context at the beginning and may have to reiterate once in a while when you see that the discussions are digressing from the context.
  2. Working agreement at the beginning will help. E.g., mobile/ electronics usage, punctuality, participant expectations, etc. Listing the Scrum values, especially if you are going to deal with conflict resolution may help the discussion.
  3. If the event/ meeting is not interactive, you may want to spend some time take some time to find the root cause.
  4. Create a safe environment for people to speak by ensuring that people focus on task at hand rather than pointing fingers. Immediately interject if there are any personal attacks.
  5. Use Timeboxing to ensure that discussions are productive.
  6. Balance the discussions so that introverts feel included in the discussions.
  7. As a facilitator, you need to read the mood in the room to take breaks at regular intervals to keep the energy level high for productive discussion.
  8. Be neutral in your stance and do not take sides (beware of your implicit bias during heated discussions)

Have you used this technique in coaching your team? If yes, please share your story.

References

Agile Coaching – Rachel Davies, Liz Sedley

Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi

How to manage unplanned work during the Sprint

As part of the Scrum Tapas video series, Professional Scrum Trainer Hiren Doshi discusses a model to assess and control unplanned work that may come up during a Sprint and reviewing its impact during the Sprint Review.

Agile Coach Toolkit #3: Asking Powerful Questions

As an Agile Coach, you frequently encounter situations which demand quick thinking to get things moving in the right direction. Over time I have found few techniques which come out handy and always keep these in my playbook in case need arise. This is the third part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – Asking Powerful Questions.

Purpose – As a Scrum Master, you will deal with different personas in the Scrum Team with clear goal to build a high performing team. Dealing with human psychology is complex at best (though I feel that it is chaotic at times). At times you are pulled into situations where there are conflicts among the team members and you may need to coach them to ensure it is constructive and doesn’t go down into war zone.

Description – Coaching is a guided discussion meant to sort out conversations, set goals or learn new behaviors. Start your coaching conversation by welcoming the participant and asking the person what he/ she would like to get out of the discussion. This will help set the objectives for the discussion and serve as a guardrail for channeling the conversation. This stage should not take more than 10% of the time.

Let the participant open up and talk about his/ her concerns. To get the person open up more, you may need to ask open ended question like –

“Tell me more about it?” or “What else?”

In order to gauge if the person has tried solving the issue by himself/ herself, you may ask below question –

“What have you tried and how has that worked out?”

Sometimes I find it helpful to ask below question to understand the person’s emotional state by asking –

“How does that make you feel?”

In addition to helping the person express his/ her feelings, it also provides us with good insight into how emotional aspects play into the issue. One of the useful follow up questions I find helpful is –

“If you were to give a suggestion to friend who in this scenario, what would it be?”

This helps the person to take a step back and analyze the problem from third party perspective. Sometimes, even a short question like below also help explore few options

“What is possible?” 

Unless that person has not come up with options and you want to give any suggestion, first ask the person –

“May I offer you a suggestion?”

Then add your thoughts by stating –

“Have you explored … <option>?”

After the conversation has run its course, you would like to wrap up by asking the participant to summarize the take aways and next steps to ensure there will be a fruitful follow up. This should ideally be no more than 10% of the entire conversation.

Have you used this technique in coaching your team? If yes, please share your story.

References

http://www.coachingagileteams.com/2008/04/15/agile/powerful-questions-for-agile-teams/ – Lyssa Adkins

Agile Coach Toolkit #2: Timeboxing

As an Agile Coach, you frequently encounter situations which demand quick thinking to get things moving in the right direction. Over time I have found few techniques which come out handy and always keep these in my playbook in case need arise. This is second part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – Timeboxing.

Timeboxing is a time management tool that allocates a fixed time period, called a timebox, to an activity. Timeboxing is generally used for ensuring that effort is spent well on activity at hand and reduce waste.

Benefits of Timeboxing

  • It help everyone aligned and focus on the problem/ issue at hand.
  • Timeboxes encourage the team members who are working hands-on on the problem to create the best possible outcome in the time allotted, within the current context.
  • Timeboxing serves as guardrails and make the team safe by restricting the risk.
  • It avoids procrastination by helping the team to avoid distractions and prioritize their work.
  • It helps prevent unnecessary perfectionism by the team members.

Note of Caution – As a Scrum Master, timeboxing would be a great tool in your kit. But care must be taken in certain scenarios –

  • Do not go aggressive in timeboxing a particular discussion that the team may be engaged in. Sometimes they may be ‘in the zone’ and shorter time duration my end up doing more damage than to help them.

I have found this simple and yet effective idea of timeboxing very beneficial in my role and would encourage Scrum Masters to leverage it in their roles. You may find it helpful to remind the team about time whenever they tend to digress from the problem at hand. Sometimes a periodic reminder helps ensure that discussions/ activities keep progressing.

Have you used this simple technique in your role? If yes, I would love to hear back from you.

References

Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeboxing – Wikipedia

Raffle for PSM workshop, Mumbai (2 Tickets)

In 2007, Ken Schwaber allowed me to attend his Certified Scrum Master class in Boston for a mere $200 (for certification and meals) for a ticket that had a price of over $2000 then, because he probably saw the hunger in me to learn Scrum. Ken’s gesture of goodwill gave me a tremendous boost in my Agile journey.

Today while gearing up for the exciting PSM class, which I will be co-teaching with another mentor of mine Steve Porter, I want to happily contribute back to the community. I will raffle 2 heavily discounted tickets for the workshop on 16th – 17th March in Powai, Mumbai to anyone who shares the same passion to embark on this awesome journey. You will only pay INR 8500 (Regular ticket price of INR 24998+GST). The cost includes PSM I assessment fees, the premium Scrum.org training material and the cost for the food. I will also provide a hard copy of my book Scrum Insights for Practitioners, which will be co-signed by Steve Porter. I will pick 2 names randomly (you will have to trust me on this) on Monday, 12th March and names will be announced at 5:00pm. Please submit your names by 3:00pm March 12th. 

Registration Link: https://practiceagile.com/raffle-for-psm-workshop/

Agile Coach Toolkit #1: 5 Whys

As an Agile Coach, you frequently encounter situations which demand quick thinking to get things moving in the right direction. Over time I have found few techniques which come out handy and always keep these in my playbook in case need arise. This is first part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – 5 Whys.

Brief History – This technique was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. It is a critical component of problem-solving training, delivered as part of the induction into the Toyota Production System.

Purpose – 5 whys can be used for:

  1. Root Cause Analysis during Sprint Retrospectives
  2. Identifying impediments

Description – Discuss with team members to look at the issue and ask “Why?” up to five times to get beyond habitual thinking. It is imperative to distinguish causes from symptoms and pay attention to the logic of cause-and-effect relationship to identify the root cause. Be empirical in the investigation by leveraging the facts for decision-making.

Example – An issue identified is “poor Sprint Planning”. Let’s find the root cause for this problem.

  • “Why was Sprint Planning poor”?
    • “Well, we did not have a clear objective and the PBIs were not ‘Ready’
  • “Why were the PBIs not ‘Ready’”?
    • “The team did not meet for Product Backlog Refinement meetings”
  • “Why did the team not meet?
    • “Yes, we were supposed to meet on Thursday from 4 to 6pm, but the CEO called for an impromptu All-hands at the same time”
  • “Why wasn’t the meeting re-scheduled”?
    • “Well, there is no owner for the meeting”

So the real root cause for poor Sprint Planning was no accountability of the Product Backlog Refinement meetings. It is very important to identify the root cause, come out with action items for improvement, identify an accountable person from the Scrum Team and agree on the expected time frame for putting the improvements into practice.

Have you used this technique to identify the root cause of any problems? If yes, please share your story.

References

Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys – Wikipedia

Agile Retrospectives – Esther Derby, Diana Larsen

Scrum Chapter Mumbai – “Leading Agile adoption”

Goal to answer the question:

“As an aspiring Agile Coach, I want to learn how to lead Agile adoption for my 1st prospective client, so that I can deliver maximum value and improve their ROI for the investment they make in me”

We had some excellent discussions.

Scrum Chapter Mumbai - Feb 2018

1st Edition of Scrum Chapter - Mumbai, "Leading Agile Adoption" Goal to answer the question: "As an aspiring Agile Coach, I want to learn how to lead Agile adoption for my 1st prospective client, so that I can deliver maximum value and improve their ROI for the investment they make in me"

Some insights we gained from our discussion:

  1. Understanding ‘The why”: Why is the organization is trying to embrace Agile?
  2. Derive the baseline of where the organization stands before the Agile journey
  3. Facilitate retrospectives and interviews with the C-level executives, mid level managers and the foot soldiers to understand the culture of the organization as well as their Agile readiness.
  4. Educate the organization on the new ways of working and get a top-down and bottom-up buy-in. This can include trainings, brown bag sessions, etc.
  5. Define quantitative business metrics to measure the progress with the idea of continuous improvement and the understanding that all we need to do is try to be “better than yesterday”
  6. … and many more

The 2nd edition of Scrum Chapter Mumbai is planned on Saturday, March 24th from 4:30pm to 7:00pm.

Topic:  Moving from “ScrumBut” to “ScrumAnd

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