Forget Goal-Setting; I Want to Declare Intentions

Photo by Nils Geylen

Photo by Nils Geylen

Do you define clear goals for yourself?  Set deadlines?  Create detailed plans? 

My life isn’t organized into milestones or outlined into actions.  I used to be more concrete in my goals and plan iteratively in my head how to accomplish them.  I was focused in my drive.  The process was: 1. Realize achieving X would make me more awesome.  2. Find ways to achieve X.  3. Work on achieving X.  4. Achievement X unlocked.  This method successfully made me more awesome. 

Over the last two years, I’ve been slowly changing my achievement mentality.  Now I have a vision and a purpose that I reflect upon, and I give more thought to how I want to improve my skills as ongoing growth.  I still push myself and, yes, overcommit myself; admittedly, I enjoy the thrill of testing my boundaries, finding creative ways of doing more, and possibly falling flat on my face at any time. 

I fear I’d lose my edge if I was expected make realistic commitments and be held accountable for them.  When I'm at my best, I dream big.  Huge, really.  I pick a direction, learn my options, and commit one day at a time.

With all of that in mind, it is a new year, and as a one word resolution, I want 2015 to be slower.  My schedule has been packed the last 2 weeks, and I already know it will be intense for the next 6 months as I go through Certified Professional Co-Active Coach certification to further develop my coaching skills.  My intention isn’t to have a slow year—that would be boring.  I want more breathing into life—more savoring of experiencesand an actual vacation because I didn't do that last year.  Professionally and personally, I want more moments that feel like this:

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Being an Agile Leader in the Process of Change

Photo by rick

Photo by rick

In the process of change, have you ever felt like you’ve taken a step backwards?  Seen someone go back to old habits?  Watched teams lose their courage to change and stick with the status quo?

Change is hard.  It’s a process of growth that can be positive or negative. Watching a video of Virginia Satir talk about the process of change, I am reminded that the introduction of a foreign element can bring resistance.  And then the period of chaos.  Limbo.  The opportunity for catastrophic expectations.  That is when we need to breathe and find our place of centeredness.  Find a state of strength.  The old is not reliable, and our anxiety increases—this is essential for change.  If we breathe in this place, then we can find openness and experiment.  Practice and change.

My job is to help people develop their agile instincts.  To help them breathe and find their place of centeredness amidst the chaos of change.  To help them discover their motivation.  From Characteristics of Agile Organizations:

It takes a lot of strength to practice Agile at the individual level during a period in which it is not practiced, and might not even be recognized, at other levels. This kind of strength is the acid test for the Agile leader. Having the courage of their conviction is what ultimately leads to successful organizational transformation. Such success is not guaranteed, more often than not it takes a lot of time, and it might wear down an Agile leader who is forced to struggle for a prolonged time without witnessing immediate results. It is, however, this kind of strength that differentiates the Agile leader from the follower.

As Satir said, “Using my power to help people grow is different than bossing them.” 

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Embracing Silence as a Tool

Photo by Evan Moss

Photo by Evan Moss

For those who don’t know, the photo is a reference to Doctor Who, a British sci-fi show that I enjoy watching.  It's a picture of the Silence; their existence is a secret because anyone who sees them immediately forgets about them after looking away, but retains suggestions made to them by the Silence.  Do you remember what it was like to have silence in your life?

I watch a lot of TV.  To be more accurate, I multitask frequently with a TV on in the background.  I like the noise.  But as this video* shows, silence can be powerful:

I sometimes carve out time for silence when I really want to savor something I’m reading or want to inspire creativity.  What does silence do for you? 

*Thanks to @coridrew for sharing this video with me

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

More Clever Ways to Practice Listening

Photo by gfpeck

Photo by gfpeck

Ever feel like the world is trying to get your attention by putting certain messages in front of you?  The world is trying to teach me to listen.  

I came across a TED video on 5 ways to listen better and procrastinated in watching it.  In fact, I didn't watch it at all the first time I decided to press play--I listened to it while driving.  And I listened to it a second time during the same drive.  Later I watched it with distractions in the background once I got home.  Finally, a few days later, I watched it in a quiet living room.  Now I'm posting about it, aware of the rain falling outside that provides a comforting and gentle background noise.

Watch to learn 5 ways to practice listening:

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

A Clever Way to Practice Active Listening

Photo by Hina Ichigo

Photo by Hina Ichigo

How often do you listen intently to what someone else is saying without thinking about your own reply?  Or thinking about something else entirely?  I find it hard to focus sometimes, and in our world of constant interruptions and updates, I am probably not the only one.  In an article called How to Radically Improve Your Life with Just 1 Hour a Week, I was excited to find a new idea of how to practice active listening: Actively listen to a top podcast.

What a clever idea!  A way to practice active listening without the temptation to respond, which will help develop your ability to focus.  Once you're able to listen intently to podcasts, doing the same during conversations will be easier.

I did something similar last year when I realized that I was multitasking at home by watching TV and doing tasks on my computer; I wasn't being very productive or allowing myself to relax, and I had time to do both if I separated my activities.  I picked one show that I would not allow myself to multitask during, and I had to put down the laptop and ignore the urge to check emails on my phone.  By doing so, I noticed more--the character development, the foreshadowing, the use of colors and costumes... I had forgotten how rich Mad Men could be!

Are you looking to increase your active listening skills in 2015?  I'm curious to hear more ideas on how to practice.

 

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Providing Safety as a Coach, Facilitator, or Scrum Master

Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation

Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation

Have you ever been in a meeting where you could’ve heard a pin drop because it was so quiet?  Where people were not saying what was on their minds?  Why does that happen? 

Hint: it’s usually related to a lack of safety in the room

Where does safety come from?

Someone once told me that my competence provided safety to the people I coach—a lovely thought, and I can see truth in it.  My experience and knowledge allow me to provide teaching and mentoring, as well as reassurance that you’re not stuck with the status quo.  And I also see where my expertise occasionally makes others feel less safe—afraid that they will be caught doing something wrong or breaking rules.  In those moments, it’s as if I embody someone’s own conscience.  Safety has something to do with how you show up and create the environment, and it is also dependent on how others show up and interact within the environment.

I’ve seen the silent meetings occur when the facilitator ignored the group dynamics and neglected to create an environment for everyone to freely share opinions.  And I’ve also seen the silent meetings happen despite a facilitator doing just about everything in his control to foster a judgment-free environment.  Sometimes people aren’t ready to open up.  Skilled facilitators work hard to help people share and participate in meetings, and sometimes people are not ready for that right away.  Perhaps “getting real” is uncommon, either for the individual, the team, or the organization.  It can take time for folks to feel comfortable voicing their opinions; the facilitator must provide the safe environment at every opportunity so it is there when they are ready.

The art of providing safety

From June to October, I spent some of my weekends building a trebuchet with friends for the annual DFW Trebuchet Toss Off.  It’s a fun activity, and I enjoy being part of a team that builds something tangible (far different from my day job!).  This was my third year participating, and my role is that of Safety Czar.  Because honestly I’m not much of a builder, and I can’t carry much physically, but I do pay attention to group dynamics and making sure that those who are about to use a power saw are wearing safety goggles.  We had a lot of challenges this year with our trebuchet, and my schedule didn’t allow me to be at every build. I feel like I didn’t really fulfill my role this year.  I noticed when certain people were disengaged during the builds where I was present, and I didn’t do much to pull them into the active conversations.  I didn’t take a strong enough stand against some of the physical safety issues; while no one was really hurt, we did cause some damage that could have been prevented.  That doesn’t feel good. 

Coaches regularly see the places where people become uncomfortable—whether it’s the person who isn’t ready to face the real transformation that lies ahead or the team that isn’t ready to take the next step.  The coach stays with them in the moment and uses her skills to deepen the learning and forward the action.  It is not easy to do.  In fact, it can feel exhausting.  Listening intently, asking questions with curiosity, acknowledging and championing the strengths you see, and challenging old thinking… all in service of the person/people you are coaching.

I think that’s the key to providing safety: acting in service of them.  A Scrum Master assigned to a new team can facilitate an amazing retrospective and draw out the introverts if he acts from a place of serving the team as a whole.  A coach can ask hard questions of a team and provide a reality check if she acts from a place of serving the team.  If you act from a place of right/wrong, us/them, waterfall/agile, or win/lose, then safety is lost.

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Another Improving Bootcamp

Photo by David O'Hara

Photo by David O'Hara

Six months ago my company, Improving Enterprises, was looking to hire people and train them in how to be developers. We did that successfully, and we have six new consultants working at various clients now--HUGE SUCCESS!

I’m pleased to announce that we’re doing it again. We’re looking for another crop of people to jump into the fray, who want to aggressively learn for the next 3 months. 

What we expect from you

  • Some programming experience is necessary.
  • Web experience is not necessary, though it is helpful.
  • Lack the experience or expertise to be an Improver
  • Exhibit excellent potential, aptitude, and attitude
  • Are willing to work long and hard over the next few months to become an Improver.

What you can expect from the program

  • You will be paid a nominal salary.
  • The salary will increase once you pass the board exam and become billable.
  • The program is 9-6 plus homework assignments including user group attendance and supplemental online courses.
  • It is intended to be an intensive, “drink from the firehose” experience.
  • There is an interview process.
  • The program will last 12 weeks, and moving into a full time consultant role with Improving is not guaranteed, it will be dependent on your performance.
  • The program will start last week of September or first week of October.

If this excites you, contact Tim@TimRayburn.net or on Twitter/GitHub @TRayburn and we’ll get you started in the process.

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Agile Coaching Dashboard, Iteration 3

Photo by A.Q. Mckenzie

Photo by A.Q. Mckenzie

After facilitating agile assessments for all 20 teams, I realized that my job was to coach an organization and teach 20 Scrum Masters to coach their own teams.  I needed to work on growing the skills of the Scrum Masters themselves, so I needed to reflect that on my coaching dashboard.  I wasn’t comfortable displaying their real names in my cubicle, so I gave them superhero nicknames.

For the y-axis of the grid, I thought about what skills a great Scrum Master demonstrated and grouped them into 5 categories (5 is a magic number because of the size of the cards and height of my cubicle).  In the matrix, I wrote notes about each Scrum Master.  A note in green meant a Scrum Master excelled at something, orange meant some help was needed, pink meant a trouble area, and purple meant I wasn’t sure and needed to spend more time with the Scrum Master.

agile coaching dashboard 3.jpg

With this dashboard, I was able to recognize what areas were weak across the group [e.g. conflict facilitation].  More importantly, I could see opportunities for the Scrum Masters to pair and teach one another based on their strengths.

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

The Next Iteration of the Coaching Dashboard

Photo by Natalie Litz

Photo by Natalie Litz

Sometime after I developed my first coaching dashboard, I went from coaching 8 teams to about 20 teams, and I found it difficult to fill in the matrix for such a large number of teams.  The dashboard no longer helped me focus on what I needed to do next because it was more time-consuming to read.  I determined that I needed to facilitate the agile assessment with all of the teams, and I started to replace the note cards with the team’s maturity level for each focus area.  I could see which teams had gone through the assessment and which remained to be done easily, and I would tag teams that had an assessment scheduled with a sticky note.  I indicated the focus areas that teams chose to improve with sticker dots.  

As the maturity cards were filled in, I could again see similarities and differences across teams at a higher level.  It became clear that the teams were relatively close in their maturities—they seemed to move together in their agile adoption.  Suddenly coaching 20 different teams didn’t seem like the goal.  The goal was to coach the organization as a whole and teach 20 Scrum Masters to coach their individual teams!

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.

Agile Coaching Dashboard - How I Started

Photo by Darwin Bell

Photo by Darwin Bell

I was first introduced to the concept of an agile coaching dashboard at the Agile 2012 conference, and it was presented as a type of information radiator to help agile coaches and the teams they work with visualize coaching work and progress.  I work with a large number of teams, and there isn’t a single location where I could post an information radiator for most of them to see—I tried, and it flopped.  But I was still curious about how I could visualize my work with the teams for my own benefit, so I decided to house the dashboard in my cubicle.

At this particular client organization, the agile coaches use an agile assessment framework to help teams inspect and adapt their agile practices.  The assessment consists of 5 focus areas, which seemed like a good way for me to organize my work.  I wrote down each focus area on a 4x6 index card with some bullet points about what was included in that area and hung them vertically in my cubicle: I had my y-axis.  Then I wrote down the team names on cards and hung those horizontally; I think at the time I was coaching about 8 teams.  This formed a matrix that I could then fill in and looked something like this:

Within the grid, I wrote short notes about what I thought a team needed help with next.  Every 1-2 weeks, I would review the cards and evaluate what progress had been made.  I could see similarities and differences amongst the teams, which was helpful in determining what training needs existed.  It became easier to see what topics would be beneficial to cover in the organization’s monthly lunch and learns.

The coaching dashboard was helpful for me to reflect on my work, and it evolved over time (more to come).

Allison Pollard

I am an agile coach working with 20 teams in a large enterprise, and I love to create communities for those interested in developing their agile instincts; I mentor project managers to become great Scrum Masters and coach managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results and an organizational community that provides sustainability for agile. I am also one of the organizers of the Dallas-Fort Worth Scrum user group which hosts monthly sessions with over 60 attendees and serve on the Dallas Agile Leadership Network board.