Give the Gift of Code on National Pay It Forward Day!

Originally posted on the blog of Curving North, Inc. 

Did you know that today is National Pay It Forward Day? Curving North is committed to giving back and helping those who are dedicated to building and furthering Computer Science programs and offerings in schools. We have donated to CodeVA ourselves and we’re also offering a match up to $500.00 in hopes that others will help to broaden this organizations impact. Once you donate, please send an e-mail to with proof of your donation and we’ll match it.  Tomorrow, we’ll report back and let you know the results.  Thank you for taking the time to make an impact and a difference.


CodeVA is committed to expanding public school computer science offerings all across Virginia. Based in Richmond, our teacher training efforts and outreach to districts, parents and policymakers assumes a statewide footprint. We are grateful for the partnership we have developed with, a national organization with a similar mission. We look forward to making computer science education a reality for all Virginia children and for all Virginia communities.”


Lessons About Teams I’ve Learned From My Kids

I’ve been watching my son play team sports for the last 13 years. My daughter just started playing them this year. My son is graduating from High School next month and I’ve been in a very reflective mood lately – especially as his last game gets closer and closer. There’s a lot to be learned from watching kids play and I’m sharing some of my observations with you today.

  1. Don’t underestimate a player based on appearance.  Time and time again I have watched this play out.  People (myself included) make assumptions based on how someone looks and behaves only to find out how terribly wrong they were.  I have seen “gangly” kids go toe to toe against “stocky” kids on the offensive line in football and have had to close my eyes – certain someone was going to be injured – only to watch those stocky kids blocked over and over again. Will, determination, understanding their job on the team and the impact to the team if they don’t perform and the simple joy of playing goes a long way.
  2. When you get knocked down, get back up (unless of course you’re seriously injured).  Sometimes, players on the opposing side do things that test the other sides mettle.  Getting back up shows your teammates and the other team spirit and drive.  It also serves to challenge the other team to really focus on their game and not their play.  Getting up requires individual strength and determination that everyone appreciates – coaches, fans, officials and teammates.  When you get up, in effect you’re telling the other person to “bring it” and that unspoken message radiates from the rest of your team.
  3. Recognize and celebrate great players and teams whether it’s your own or not.  All teams work hard together, over a long period of time and give their best on the field.  As an opposing player or team respecting and admiring what’s great on the field is special and shows that you care about more than the win.  If you do happen to be on the winning team, you earn the respect of the other team.  If you’re on the losing team – same thing AND you win in a different way.
  4. Don’t be the team who is clearly better and run up the score on the less-experienced teams. Those teams suck. Instead be the team who is gracious and shows true sportsmanship. You will earn the respect and admiration of the teams you play and those who are watching.  Also, the teams will learn a lot from you that goes far beyond skill. Sure, those amazing teams can be fun to watch initially simply due to how well they play together, ultimately they end up being the team everyone roots against (except the parents of the sucky, winning team).
  5. As an observer (aka: parent in the stands) your job is to support and celebrate. Anything else is wasted energy and counter-productive. If you happen to actually know something about the sport because you have played it yourself and you think you have something of value to share, share it after the game and, preferably in private. Sharing it during the game just crushes the player and team spirit which serves to NOT HELP AT ALL.  Plus, all the other observers feel embarrassed for you.
  6. Be the veteran who celebrates the rookie.  When someone who is new to the sport tries out or plays, the veteran players who teach, help, coach and encourage the newbie are the ones who are seen as and become team leaders. They are the ones who create a unique and special experience for the new player and the team.
  7. One the game ends, focus on your team and the next game. The team who immediately disperses and goes home isn’t a strong team.  When the game is over get with your team, celebrate your successes, focus on where you want to improve immediately and get ready for the next game.

Have any of your own to share?  Would love to read your stories in the comments.

Make It So

It has been too long since I have written anything here.  The number of draft posts is a little embarrassing and frustrating.  The advice I give to my clients definitely applies to me too:

–  Stop starting.  Start finishing.

–  Limit your WIP!

–  Focus!

Easier said than done right?  It’s easy to observe and throw out those words of wisdom for others and, frankly, I feel a bit like a hypocrite for not applying them to myself with the discipline and rigor I ask from those I coach.  I am not perfect.  No-one is.

I have a vision for myself and it’s beyond idealistic.  I crafted it over three years ago on the advice of my friend and mentor, Dan Mezick.  I continue to re-visit it and modify it with new information and goals.  2014 was an interesting year for me and, admittedly, I went a little off track.  The shift wasn’t intentional and I didn’t even realize it until before the holidays, when I was reflecting on the direction I was heading against my vision.  I was on the verge of being grossly off-course.  That said, sometimes, a major course in direction is a good thing right?  It depends on the goal or vision you’re trying to reach and that can change.

What I realized is my vision had changed but, the path I was on was taking me further away from my original vision AND the modified one.  I had to adjust and, let me tell you it was not and will not be easy.  When I think about what I want to achieve it makes me nervous.  Actually, it scares me. I question if maybe I’m being too idealistic and putting something out there for myself that just isn’t possible.  But, I’ll never know unless I try.  Trying means I have to do things which are far outside of my comfort zone and current knowledge base.  It means that I am getting on a path which could, very likely, lead to several failures (learning!).  I had to really think about how ready I was to embark on this adjustment before I made it.

The deciding factor had nothing to do with how ready I was and MUCH more to do with how much I wanted my vision to become my reality.   Then, the decision was clear even though the path to get there wasn’t.  The path will emerge as I go (sound familiar).  Right now, it’s clear.  Further out…not so much but, every day, with new knowledge and learning, the runway is becoming more clear.

This experience has served multiple purposes.  First, it has put me back on my path.  Second, it has re-affirmed my true north.  Third, it has made me challenge myself more.  Fourth, it has reminded me of the importance of having a vision.  Finally, it has made me remember the experience of individuals and teams starting on their Agile journey.  What a lot of goodness!

I’m not thinking about all the things standing in the way of realizing my vision.  Instead, I’m focusing on how to “make it so”.

The Dreaded, Embedded Coach…

There’s a disturbance in the Agile force.  Consultancies and coaches who look for clients with a vacant coaching parking lot.  A place where coaches can roam the halls by the hour and bill for it without actually adding value.  I call this Embedded coaching and it’s something we, as coaches have a responsibility to eradicate.  Embedded coaching is great for people who want to make money and, from the business perspective, I can understand the draw.  I mean, if an organization is willing to continue to pay money and not realize value, why not?  Embedded coaches aren’t great for organizations who really want to improve nor is it great for Agile coaches overall.

Now, there can be several reasons why a coach isn’t adding value.  Things like:

  1. The coach isn’t a good fit for the organization and/or the team(s).
  2. The client really isn’t certain what they want to achieve so, then, the coach isn’t either.
  3. The client isn’t willing to be coached or do any of the heavy lifting so there aren’t results despite the best efforts of the coach.
  4. The coach isn’t good.
  5. The coach ceases to be a coach and becomes a player.
  6. The client doesn’t take advantage of the coach when he/she is there.
  7. The coach has embedded.

Dan LeFebvre (aka: Coach Dan), a coach whom I admire and respect a great deal, offered a definition of an embedded coach:

“I define embedded coaching as someone who is there 5 days a week working with a handful of teams or may be occupying the SM or PO role (either explicitly or implicitly by usurping the actual SM or PO authority) while being called the coach.” – Coach Dan

It’s the embedding I want to focus on.   I have a theory there’s about a 6-9 month maximum span of efficacy for a coach.  Granted, if the organization or number of teams is large and/or the problem is incredibly complex (transformation) more time may still be valuable and warranted as long as value is being added.  The reason I say this is because the more time you spend in a place, the harder it is to remain completely objective.  You come to expect and excuse certain behaviors – the “it is what it is” mentality can creep in (if you’re not very careful).  And, it’s after this time a coach is in danger of becoming embedded.

The embedded coach attends events and meetings, throws out some advice or observational feedback and vanishes down the hall.  He doesn’t collaborate – he pontificates.  He throws out a thought-provoking question and makes noises of interest in the responses, shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head.  Meanwhile, clients wonder “What, exactly, does he do and how is he spending his time?   At this point the client is wasting money and the coach is wasting time.  Not only that, the value of a coach and, perhaps, Agile is called into question as well.  And, this (calling into question the value of coaches and Agile)is NOT okay.

Coach Dan also offers the following for your consideration:

“I think coaches should work with the teams for a sprint or two then exclusively work with SM and leaders to improve their ability to operate with the agile mindset. Enterprise coaches also focus on establishing what I call the 3 necessary mechanisms to re-enforce agility: 1) impediments removal mechanism where slowdowns in the flow are rapidly identified, escalated and resolved; 2) building the capacity for internal coaching through internal people opting-in to the coaches role or through communities of practice; 3) agile portfolio management where the entire product/value flow is pull-based rather than push. A possible fourth is the “opt-in” cultural aspects that all good self-organizing systems need to truly multiply the effectiveness and delivery of value.” – Coach Dan

Dan Mezick, another coach whom I admire and respect, contributed the following Coaching Values which, I believe, are worthy of mention and introspection.  He also details supporting principles.

In serving our clients, we have come to value:

Creating Independence over generating billing
Championing Learning over avoiding risk
Building Relationships over building transactions
Inviting Participation over assigning responsibility

Ideally, coaches have chosen this profession because they love it and, happily, are able to support themselves and their families.  As coaches, we owe it to the profession and the clients we serve to ensure both are set up for success.   There are things we can do:

  1. Align on the goals of the engagement and the definition of value.  Meet regularly to openly discuss the progress and re-align.
  2. Ask the client “What value have I provided this week?”.  If he can’t answer, immediately diagnose the root cause together and agree on actions.
  3. Actively communicate what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the results – realized or expected.
  4. Don’t establish a need for physical presence 5 days a week where you become a regular fixture of the environment and are taken for granted.
  5. Be honest and true.  You know when you’re not adding value.  Remove yourself with offers of alternate coaches or course of action.

Thank you for your time.

Yes. Size DOES Matter.

Contrary to popular belief Bigger is NOT better.  Big organizations want BIG stuff.  Whether it be projects, programs, releases, teams, scope, architecture…you name it, they want it BIG!  Even Org charts.  The more levels and boxes, the better.  But, when it comes time to getting things done the people you need to execute now have to jump through BIG hoops to make it happen.  And, after all of that BIG effort, the end result ends up being not so big.  Despite this notion of bigger not being better being proven time and time again, it’s still a challenge for people believe it.  I’ve blogged about this before and I offer my apologies for being repetitive.  Events have put this top of mind – again – and I just couldn’t control the urge.  Big <insert item here> leads to BIG problems.

Team Size – More people means more potential communication gaps, lack of alignment – to the commitment, the work and the vision, inability to unify into a single entity and difficulty collaborating.

Scope Size – Everything and the kitchen sink means greater risk.  Risk to what you ask?  Risk that what finally gets put into production is no longer relevant.  You put too much out there, something doesn’t work and you have no idea what that something is.  The problem you initially set out to address is diluted and gets lost in the shinier things people have managed to shove in.  There’s so much you have to move quickly and quality and deliberate decision making goes out the window.

Story Size – Well, the hood’s open so we may as well….. Wait.  What was this story delivering again?  There’s no way we can complete that in a sprint.  Now, what you thought was a quick fix ends up taking a quarter.

Process Size – Rather than addressing the root cause, we have a process to make sure that – what was it we were trying to prevent again?  Big Process is indicative of an inefficient organization/system.

Decision Size – You can’t empower anyone to decide to decide anything b/c the potential impact is (also) TOO BIG.  This means everything takes way too long.  The date you’re shooting for?  Add 6 or so months to it.

WIP Size – There’s so much in progress that focus is lost.  Congratulations, you now have 20 things in progress and completion of any one of them is no where on the horizon.  Makes for some BIG reporting though.  WOOT!

Want to scale?  All of the above applies times a gazillion.  Size matters.  If you’re seeing problems with being able to deliver quality software frequently and efficiently, dig into the size of everything.  Be warned.  You could find yourself standing in a very BIG hole.


The Burn Down – Using it for GOOD vs. EVIL

As  a Scrum Master, some of my teams resented the burn down and me for pestering them to update their time.  Sometimes, teams feel the updating of hours and the burn down are ways to make make micro-managing easier.  And, sometimes, that’s EXACTLY what it is used for.  It’s sad but true.  So, what happens when this “evil” scenario is true?

1.  Managers have a false sense of security that all is right with the delivery team.  They really like that.  As managers, it’s a bragging point.

2.  Teams don’t get a sense of what might be off easily.  This means a delay in realizing there’s a problem.  This is good when teams don’t want their managers to know there is a problem.

3.  The environment teams work within doesn’t improve enough to foster honesty and transparency.  This means no one really wants to learn about problems much less prevent or fix them.

4.  The evil cycle continues because without transparency, you can’t build trust.  A good burn down isn’t, by itself, a reason to trust.  Also, teams who have managers who manage to the burn down may have a hard time trusting their manager.  Does the manager REALLY want to know about, care about or help fix a problem?

5.  The Principle “Working Software is the Primary Measure of Progress” isn’t ever true.  I mean, as long as the burn down is pretty, who cares about working software? No ONE b/c the burn down is perfect!


When managers show value for the burn down rather than meeting the Sprint Goals and the team commitment, the team will ensure what the manager values looks AWESOME thereby completely missing the point.  The burn down is a great tool when used for good and a Scrum Master can help educate teams and managers on the goodness.  Frankly, when a burn down looks too good, I’m a little skeptical.

A daily burn down is an easy, quick, daily graphical representation of how the team is doing against their plan.  The key word there is THEIR plan.  If something looks off, it’s a signal for all of them to take a look.  There’s something taking longer than they thought.  Time is being added at a rate equal to or greater than time is being burned.  The team isn’t updating their work rendering the burn down inaccurate. There are other possibilities as well but, the point here is the team needs to take action.

They own their commitment right?  They also own the plan.  If something is taking longer, what is it and what can be done – now – to correct it?  There’s no need to wait for retro.  They can jump on it and get back on track.  It could be scope creep introduced somewhere.  It could be an impediment they’re spending too much time trying to resolve and need to escalate outside to get help.  It could be something they’re making more complex than it needs to be (perfect is the enemy of good).

Time being added faster than the burn down means they’ve learned more as they dove into the story further and there’s more to it than they thought.  They can work with the PO to see what modifications to scope can be made.  They didn’t really take planning all that seriously and need to re-visit their plan quickly to correct and let the PO know what has changed and what it means.

The team isn’t burning their time down.  This could be because they don’t see the value as a result of never having used it for its intended purpose.  If teams aren’t using it and aren’t taking action to refine and adjust as they go, surprises await the PO and stakeholders at the end of a sprint which is no good.

Helping the team see the value and teaching managers to value the accuracy of it rather than the ideal and actual lining up nicely is a good first step.  The team demonstrating their value for it through the actions they take – when necessary – to address it builds trust with the PO and the managers.  Reminding managers of the true goal – WORKING SOFTWARE and the importance of hitting the established sprint goals – and focusing on those rather than the burn down is preferred.

I like to leverage the demos to do this.  Review the sprint goals with the audience.  Speak to the target and actual velocity.  Show the burn down and walk through the learning points of the sprint with everyone.  If the burn down looks good  but the goals and target velocity were missed THAT is what managers need to spend time on.  I also like all of the above to use in Retro too.  Let the team consider the data to inform their growth opportunities and actions coming out of retro.

Burn downs are good…unless they’re obsolete and not used correctly.  Then, they’re evil and can impediments to Agility themselves.  Manage to the burn down and you will get a pretty burn down.  Manage towards a team’s ability to reliably and frequently deliver working software and meet their sprint goals and you will get a team who cares about that, takes their commitment seriously and ensures you are never surprised and are always aware of what’s going on.

An Armchair Agile QB

It’s been an interesting time in the Agile world lately.  I have read posts, tweets and the related threads with a little bit of amusement but, really, it has all just made me a little sad.  Dave Thomas, a signor of the manifesto, offers a perspective here regarding Agility and says:

“The word “agile” has been subverted to the point where it is effectively meaningless, and what passes for an agile community seems to be largely an arena for consultants and vendors to hawk services and products.”

I read the discussions on twitter.  I read the blog posts and all the comments.  Here’s YET ANOTHER flaming rail against SAFe (because there haven’t been enough).  Be sure to read the comments.  That’s where the magic happens.  And I sit at home, after a long day working and coaching, wondering how people have the energy to throw verbal hissy fits when, in theory, we’re all working and passionate about the same thing.  Unless, we’re not…

The Agile manifesto was a call to action.  A cry to work differently.  A rallying point.  People were passionate about it and the ensuing alignment was natural and a testament to its simplicity and purpose.  Dave was proud of the work but, not THAT proud:

“However, since the Snowbird meeting, I haven’t participated in any Agile events,1 I haven’t affiliated with the Agile Alliance, and I haven’t done any “agile” consultancy. I didn’t attend the 10th anniversary celebrations.

Why? Because I didn’t think that any of these things were in the spirit of the manifesto we produced.”

So, after the Snowbird meeting the Manifesto immediately became  an arena for consultants and product hawkers.  That’s the Fastest.Impact.Ever.  He was part of something larger than himself and proud of it – until, seemingly, the very next day.  You’re proud your name is on it as a signor but not proud enough to advocate for it or help people learn?  You write a blog post to slam what others have done, but won’t have a face to face conversation with those same people because it’s not in the spirit of the manifesto?

I LOVE that the post was written.  It starts a good discussion and it’s honest.   I would really love to see him attend the conferences he eschews and work to address the problems he has identified.  Engage on the field rather than being an arm-chair QB.

It’s ludicrous to see coaches beating each other up over the brands, methods and certifications.  Seriously?  It’s all rooted in the same four core values that haven’t changed.  Not once. Though I have even seen suggestions to change them too.  If you don’t like the method/framework/brand, don’t teach it.  No one is forcing it down your throat.  These rants (mine included)  kill me because the simplicity and the power that lies in the Manifesto get lost. As Agile professionals we’re collectively responsible for our profession and what started it.   Regardless of HOW it’s adopted or approached, what’s important – to me anyway – is the values and principles are front and center.  If there’s a framework that doesn’t put them front and center for you, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it yourself.

Disagreement and dialogue are good when we’re all trying to achieve a common goal.  Are we?

I’m going to go ahead and blame Dave for all this craziness because he took his ball and went home but continued to watch through the window and holler at everyone.  😉




A Safe SAFe Journey

I have been very open about my views on SAFe.  I’m a supporter and, admittedly, cautious in my support.  I am cautious because I worry the emphasis on people and the necessary mindset isn’t prominent enough on the “Big Picture”.  In the wrong hands, the results of implementing SAFe could be….lacking (aka: horrendous) resulting in a horrible experience for all involved.  While, honestly, the same can be said of any framework used to implement Agile; SAFe is riskier because it’s BIG.  It can be HUGE even which, as we all know, isn’t the preferred way of operating.  Recently, I embarked on an opportunity to coach a a group with a BIG vision and they want to be as close to Agile as they can be.  Enter SAFe and the journey of making it safe for all those on board the train.  I’m going to do my best to share this experience with you.

I’ll start by explaining what I mean when I say “safe” or “safety”.  To me, a safe environment is one in which the values and principles of both lean and Agile can be put into practice without fear.  It is safe to raise issues, learn, make quick decisions, disagree, develop, release code into production, be honest, tell someone “no”, empower people, trust people, try something new and do what’s necessary to achieve the vision everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is aligned to.  There’s more – lots more – but I’m sure you get the gist.  This kind of environment isn’t an easy one to create from the beginning and even harder to achieve when an organization is established and set in their ways.  So, where did I begin?  With the people who invited me to coach them and their leaders.

Do you know how hard it is to get “higher-ups” to spend a day with you for “training”?  Most of the time, it’s not even possible.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have watched perfectly good and valuable training which, typically, would be a full day get hacked down to 2 hours.  Funnily, it’s not the people receiving the training who require the cliff-notes version.  It’s those below them who insist a whole day isn’t possible and you’ll be lucky to get those 2 hours.  Then, you don’t get past slide 3 because slide 3 USED to be slide 30 and you’re training slides 2-29 off-the-cuff.  And, just when you really get going….times up!  Anyway, don’t get too excited because I didn’t get a whole day.  However, I was able to spend a solid six hours with them and I believe that time is one of the differentiating factors for this particular SAFe adoption.

The first clue I had to the possibilities of this group was they didn’t balk at spending time learning about Agile, lean, SAFe and what it means to be a leader in Agile.  The second clue I had was their laptops were down, phones were on silent and turned over and they were 100% present and engaged.  Granted, I did ask them for that but they didn’t complain!!  They just said OK and did it.  Third, the place where we spent the majority of time was on being a leader in Agile and working on how they would work together to make this effort special – not only in WHAT they were delivering but also HOW it would be delivered and how they, as a leadership team, would work together towards realizing BOTH objectives.  They immediately were applying what they learned to their team and their situation with completely open minds and genuine excitement. Finally, this group of leaders with open minds and genuine excitement realized and discussed how difficult this would be for those directly and indirectly involved and how, while they didn’t have the answers, would need to be supportive of each other through the journey of learning.

So far – and it’s only been a month or so – I have observed some pretty cool stuff that started during those 6 hours.  I have watched these guys engage with others in a different manner and subtly shifting the tone of conversations by sharing their vision and extending invitations to be involved.  I heard them asking other leaders (and each other) to “ask the team”.  I have seen them catch themselves and correct behaviors to model Agile principles.  Most of all, when they were up there in front of 150 team members, they all said (in a nutshell) they were there to support and enable the teams and their ability to achieve greatness personally and professionally.  They talked about empowering the individuals and the teams.  They stated they didn’t have a hard date and a backlog of non-negotiable scope.  Instead, they had release candidates and the teams were in control of what was brought in and what was left out.  They communicated their vision and invited everyone in the room to participate.  The response from the teams has been awesome.  From them I hear things like “These guys actually seem to believe in and want Agile so why don’t we try <insert experiment for team to get closer to Agility here>?

Here are the key learnings I have from this particular stop on this journey:

  1. Be very clear on what you want people to leave the room with following your time together and spend the majority of your time there.  The training isn’t what’s important.  What is important is what they do when they leave training.
  2. Ask people to set aside what their reality is – for a time – so they can learn without interference from it.  Then, ask them if it’s OK to hold them accountable to that (assuming they agree to).  This keeps the dialogue open without getting mired down in specifics from their reality.
  3. End your time with real-world application.  NOW they can bring their reality in.  This time is priceless. Minds are open.  Challenging their conventional wisdom is fluid and the knowledge goes from theoretical to practical.
  4. Start with the mind-shift and take it from the TOP.

That Dang Project Manager Hat

I haven’t been a Project Manager in title for, well, ages.  As a coach or Scrum Master, I should have shed that hat long ago.  And, I did(ish).  The problem is it’s still around and, when things need to GET DONE,  somehow that hat just turns back up….on my head.  Now, the good news is, I realize it and can quickly yank it off and stuff it under my chair but, seriously, I wish it would go away.  It won’t ever go completely away though and I’m still learning how to keep it firmly on the shelf.

So, why did it find its way on my head?  The group I am coaching wants to GET STARTED!  It’s awesome the excitement they all have.  They are eager, after months and months of talking, to get to work.  And, they want to run it Agile and they are leveraging SAFe.  So, before the December productivity vortex hit, we all looked at the calendar and they identified dates for their Quickstart (3 day event for everyone on the release train).  This means, there is a LOT to do.  And, the month of December is pretty much shot so, there’s about 3.5 weeks to get everything accomplished so the train is ready to leave the station.  But, there’s also a Holiday in there AND, most awesome of all, snow storms.  WOOT!

The team of people I am lucky enough to work with right now are amazing.  A massive can-do attitude.  They have overcome illness, broken down cars, two snow storms, children’s illnesses, broken pipes (for 4 people!) and a host of other things way out of their control.  They have all come together, rolled their sleeves up, opened their minds and have focused on getting ready.  They have trained, collaborated, learned, been challenged, formed as a team and had fun.  Honestly, it has been amazing to see and be a part of.  There is absolutely NOTHING this group of people can’t accomplish.  As a coach, this is heaven.  As a PM, I cannot stop thinking about all of the logistics and coordination and organization that needs to happen.  It’s not that there aren’t people working on those things.  They are.  Will it all get done?  Probably.  If something doesn’t get done, will it matter (really matter)?  Probably not.

Coach me:  ALL the right ingredients are there.  The people and the experience are what matters.

PM me:  I need to make certain there are enough post-its, flip charts, sharpies and who is getting red yarn?

Coach me:  These people will adjust.  What matters is their mentality and how they come together through this first event.

PM me:  How can they possibly come together if there aren’t enough sharpies and flip chart markers?!  And, who is printing the hand-outs?  Wait – do we even HAVE a final head count yet?

Coach me:  These guys have it.

PM me:  They have everything except the awesome colored, smelly markers.  They NEED those.

Coach me:  Shut up, PM.

PM me:  Will do – as soon as I have every minute of the day plotted out and accounted for….and confirmation on the sharpies.

So, for all of you former PMs out there who are transitioning to Scrum Master, your PM hat is never really gone.  You just have to recognize when it’s there, on your head, and take it off.  I bet, over the next 8 days, I’ll be taking that sucker off multiple times daily and apologizing to people for continuously asking them if they are certain we will have enough sharpies.

Listen with your eyes…

I find I take far more cues from what I see rather than what I hear.  Long ago, a coach asked me why my communication “style” would change mid-flight and I explained.  When I would see scrunchy faces, raised eyebrows, lip biting or any kind of facial cue I would immediately jump to “I’m doing or saying something wrong”.  The coach encouraged me to ask rather than assume.  I know…it’s a crazy idea.  Honestly, it did seem a little crazy though because the chance was someone would feel as though they were being called out.  It could result in a very uncomfortable situation for that person and for me.  All of that said, we talked about it some more and I said I would give it a try.  I did and have continued to experiment.  Here’s what I have learned to do (so far):

  • Ask for permission.  I let people know I have a tendency to read facial expressions.   Generally I do this by calling out the fact my own face reflects what I’m thinking and I may ask people questions based on what I’m seeing rather than what I’m hearing. I ask if it’s OK for me to do this as well as say it’s perfectly acceptable to tell me it’s not.
  • Determine if it’s appropriate.  When I do see something that makes me want to ask a question or learn more, I think (quickly) if it’s appropriate or not.  For example, if it looks like something isn’t jiving, asking a question is a good thing.  Same thing if it looks like someone doesn’t agree.  Both situations can benefit the larger group with learning or some good discussion and sharing different points of view.  Plus, more than once, I have learned something very, very valuable to apply to the future.  If, on the other hand, someone looks hurt or ticked, I wait and speak to the person individually.
  • Ask with an open mind, heart and sincerity.  It kind of goes like this:  “Bob, I’m seeing a scrunchy face.  I just want to check to see if there’s something you want dig into some more or if I’m not saying something very well.”
  • Allow for an escape route.  The reason I ask a close-ended question is so the person can easily say no and I can easily get back to it.   Also, I ask the question in such a way as whatever is happening is MINE.
  • Thank the person.  I try, really hard, to thank the person for letting me “pick” on them as well for helping make the conversation. training or whatever richer.

This “tool” has been great to get training classes of people who don’t know each other well to open up some more and generate some energy.  It’s also good with teams who  are forming or teams who are having trouble communicating.  I’ve also noticed people in classes and teams will start to do this with each other.  And, they will do it right back to me.  Like I said, what I think is on my face and people will call me out when I have a scrunchy face too.

I’m so grateful to the coach who picked up on this tendency of mine and guided me on how to leverage it over ignoring it.  So much communication happens that can’t be heard.  I mean, how often do we have to filter what we say out of fear of some unintended ramification?  Granted it’s a pretty vulnerable place to be and, if you try this, remember you are putting them there.  Also, if you read this and realize you don’t pay much attention to what you see and rely much more on what you hear, try to observe the team when you’re not in front of them by sticking your headphones in, listening to some music and just watching them.  Jot down what you’re thinking, pull the headphones out and validate with your ears what you heard with your eyes.