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

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

Manufacturing industry embrace Scrum

Can the Manufacturing industry (non-software) embrace Scrum?

Yes, the manufacturing industry can not only embrace scrum, but also reap all the benefits Scrum has to offer and I had the privilege to work with one of the largest Garment Manufacturers and exporters on their Agile journey.

The software development falls in complex domain and so does the garment manufacturing industry. The 3 major domains in which changes happen and that is similar to software development are

  1. Changing Requirements: It is very difficult to predict what the customer wants. the Fit, the Trims, the Fabric, the pattern & style etc.
    Source: Ralph Stacey, University of Hertfordshire

    Source: Ralph Stacey, University of Hertfordshire

  2. Technological changes: Faster and faster automated fabric cutting and sewing machines are available all the times.
  3. People: The entire garment manufacturing process is based on people and skills. It is heavily dependent on specialized skills & their availability

I was surprised by the fact that in bulk manufacturing a trouser changes 70 different hands before it’s ready to be shipped and a jacket changes over 120 different hands before it is ready to be shipped.

The organization wanted to move to scrum for following reasons:

  1. Improve communication and collaboration between different units.
  2. Improve the overall customer satisfaction and be more predictable with their shipment.
  3. Improve the overall discipline and have a standardized process across the organization.
  4. Improve time to market – across their different areas of Product Development (R&D), Pre-production and Production
  5. Improve transparency between various function, improve their team morale, work in Teams with a clear focus towards organizational vision and mission statement.
  6. Quick decision making, self-organizing, empowered and highly motivated teams

The Adoption was done in 3 stages and I am including a snippet of the video

  1. Assessment to baseline where they are. What is working for them and what are their pain points
  2. Scrum Training – educating participants on Scrum through plenty of exercises
  3. Team formation and sprinting

Banswara embraces SCRUM

Banswara Syntex (Garment Manufacturer) and Non-software organization embraces Scrum to improve their throughput, employee morale, and manage changing requirements.


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