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 – 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.


Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi – Wikipedia

Goodbye, 2017

Goodbye, 2017

Here are the “3 important lessons learned” by me this year:

Overcome your fear of failure:  Be uncomfortable and do something different that you have been avoiding because of the fear of failure. There can only be 2 outcomes – either you will be successful or you have learnt something to be better the next time. And both the outcomes will help you overcome your fear of failure.

Change works better inside-out:  Be humble and accept that the people in this world are not perfect and neither are you. It might be difficult to change someone else, but easier to change yourself.

Health is your biggest wealth:  Working at a sustainable pace is the key to avoid burn out. It is absouletely essential to create a healthy balance in your calendar.

With great humility I also thank the Scrum enthusiasts for accepting my book, “Scrum Insights for Practitioners: The Scrum Guide Companion”. Your positive feedback has been overwhelming and I am glad I was of service to the Scrum community.

Thank you! I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2018!

What are some lessons you have learnt this year?

Sprint Planning

Sprint Planning

Being the first event for Scrum team at the start of a Sprint, Sprint Planning tends to set the tone for the entire duration of Sprint. Doing the right things at this stage will help reduce the stress on the team and prevent cascading effect of any issues that may hamper the Sprint progress. With that in mind, I wanted to share a ready reckoner for Sprint Planning.


Product Owner

Scrum Master

Development Team


Occurs at the beginning of the Sprint to collaborate and come up with work plan for the Sprint


  • Product backlog
  • Latest product increment
  • Projected Development team’s capacity during the Sprint
  • Past performance of the development team
  • Definition of “Done”
  • Retrospective Improvements
  • Impediments

General Responsibilities

Ensure that PBI’s under discussion are “Ready” for selectionFacilitates the event

Ensure attendees understand the purpose

Maintain Time-box

Invite technical and/ or domain experts as needed

Part I: What work can be done?

Discuss the objectives and PBI’s (wish list) for Sprint

Provide PBI’s details

Select and forecast the functionality to be developed

Craft Sprint Goal

Part II: How the work will get done?

Clarify selected PBI’s and make trade-offs

Discuss Acceptance criteria

Be a neutral party to facilitate negotiations between PO and Development teamDecide how selected PBI’s will be converted to “Done” product increment

Renegotiate selected PBI’s with Product Owner, if too much or little effort is needed to convert the PBI into product increment

Create Sprint Backlog: PBI’s and delivery plan


Sprint Goal:

  • Objective set for the Sprint based on the selected PBI’s
  • Guidance for Development Team for the Sprint
  • Gives some flexibility to Development Team regarding implementation of the selected functionalities
  • Should be a logical function that makes Development Team work together rather than working in silos
  • Sacrosanct and doesn’t change throughout the Sprint


Sprint Backlog:

  • It contains selected PBI’s, tasks breakdown and plan to deliver the product Increment
  • Be prepared with PBI’s under discussion
  • Follow Scrum values throughout the meeting
  • Keep stakeholders abreast with the decision post the meeting
  • Listen actively
  • Liaise between Product Owner and Development Team
  • Help keep the discussions on track and time boxed
  • Follow Scrum values throughout the meeting
  • If necessary to keep discussion on track, coach the team on purpose of the meeting
  • Ensure appropriate understanding of PBI’s and acceptance criteria
  • Be cognizant of “Done” and Retrospective commitments
  • Follow Scrum values throughout the meeting
  • Ensure everyone is aware of impediments you foresee that are out of your control
  • Negotiate on “Done” for more PBI’s to be completed
  • Take sides during the discussion
  • Overcommit

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