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 Coaching

Agile Coaching: Are your retrospectives effective?

Are you in a situation where your team(s) has been practicing Agile for a while and teams are following ceremonies meticulously, but still there are no significant improvements sprint over sprint or release after release? If yes, I have some antidotes that I will share through series of blogs that you can experiment with.

One of the Agile principle is, “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly”. This in a nutshell is Continuous Improvement (CI) and one of the ceremonies that assists you in implementing CI is Retrospectives.

Start with Retrospectives: Ask these questions.

  • Are the retrospectives effective? 
  • Are the team members open & honest?
  • Is there a good flow and exchange of information that is fact based that the team can relate to?
  • Is enough flavor added to each retrospective to ensure that they don’t become monotonous?
  • Is the facilitator neutral? 
  • Did the team put the action plan for the improvement areas after root causing the problems? 
  • Is the team taking at least one improvement idea that they are in total control of instead of relying on parties outside their team?  
  • Is someone within the team held accountable to ensure the improvements are put in action?
  • Did the team reflect back on the improvements implemented in the retrospective that follows?

My observation as a Agile Coach has been that teams are generally very enthusiastic to begin new work as soon as current work is completed and they cut corners or miss on Retrospective entirely thereby missing on a important Agile Principle – “Inspect and Adapt” 


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