One thing I know now, as an Agile coach, that I wish I knew when I started out.
That is a tricky one. If I had to pick just one element, it would be to not take everything so personally.
Something I wish I knew at the start of my journey is that it isn’t about you.
I will admit, I have an ego, as we all do. What you have to remember though is that you are working with people, as an agile coach, and the success they achieve is their success, not yours.
That is true for teams too.
You don’t get to claim the credit for the work you perform or for the results that others achieve, that is their success to own and celebrate.
In the beginning of my career, I was deeply invested in everything being right. I am a product of the Western education system, and as such, it was always about trying to get it right and do the right thing, in the right way.
Other cultures focus on learning, responding, and adapting based on what is learned whereas our culture focuses on getting the answer right.
That meant that when I or the team didn’t achieve the outcomes we wanted, I felt like I had done something wrong. That we, as a team, had done something wrong.
Like many people, we started out with a great idea and felt incredibly disappointed when it failed to work out the way we hoped.
As I have grown older, I realised that we are simply testing hypotheses.
I think this will happen if we do that, this is the measure or metric that will inform whether the experiment proves or disproves the hypothesis, and this is what we will do next based on the data and the evidence.
Remember, in a complex space you simply can’t know the answer upfront. The thing you are trying to build has never been built before. The problem you are trying to solve has never been solved before. You can only discover through effort and experimentation. There is no right answer upfront.
In my early days as an Agile coach, if a hypothesis was disproved, I felt like I was wrong. I would waste heaps of time and effort trying to discover why I was wrong. I should have instead been curious about what I could learn from that.
How could that experiment inform what we attempt next, as individuals and as a team?
The hypothesis is incorrect. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. You simply have an opportunity to design a new experiment and test whether that hypothesis is correct or not.
Self-awareness and reflection are incredibly important, but blame serves no useful purpose.
If you are curious about the answer and reflect on what the evidence is telling you, you have significant opportunities for growth and evolution. You can test the entire hypothesis or you can test parts of it and learn with each iteration.
If you are blame-centric, you simply fail and become weaker with each experiment because a culture of fear and blame prevail. Nobody wants to get it wrong and so less is attempted and the team look for ‘safe’ experiments to run or perform work well within their skill set and comfort zone.
Work as a team.
What I learned, early on in my career as an Agile coach, is that we work as a team.
We aren’t there to analyse who got it wrong and why they are to blame, instead we are focused on whether we have learned anything of value through that iteration and how that can be leveraged into the next sprint to help us advance.
As a team, we celebrate our wins, and we reflect on the challenges we face.
We reflect on where we can improve and how we can improve. Why we should improve is already baked into our DNA as a team. We believe in a culture of continuous improvement, and we believe that discovery and experimentation are the only effective ways to create in a complex environment.
As an Agile coach, you are always working with people. You never work in isolation.
It isn’t about you; it is about the team and the individuals within that team environment.
You are there to help teach, coach and mentor individuals to create an environment where the team can excel. Create an environment where the team can consistently produce products, features and services that truly delight customers and product stakeholders.
It is both a super rewarding and fulfilling feeling but it can also feel like you are always in the shadows and never truly celebrated for your contribution. That is something you need to understand upfront and deal with as early as possible.
The team are celebrated for their wins, and at times you are recognised and rewarded for your contribution to the team, but for most of the time you will be working in the shadows.
You can’t take the defeats personally nor can you take the wins personally.
You can only see these things as evidence that your hypothesis is true or whether you need to go back to the drawing board. It is a tremendously creative and rewarding process that I have no doubt you will grow to love as much as I do.
So, that would be my advice to you. Don’t take anything personally in your career as an Agile coach.
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For more information on John McFadyen, visit https://www.growingscrummasters.com or connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
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