The Key to Increasing Productivity

Photo by JD Hancock

Photo by JD Hancock

To increase productivity at your organization, look at the social connectedness of your people.  Are you hearing from each person or only the "superstars?"  How well are people collaborating and showing empathy?  Asking for help is core to success, and people knowing each other drives helpfulness:  

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.

Lasers, Walls, and Relationships

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra

My name is Allison, and I shoot lasers from my eyes.

Ok, I can’t literally shoot lasers from my eyes, but it certainly feels that way when I am in a reactive mode.  Sometimes it’s like a wall comes up between the world and me.  The atmosphere becomes more sterile.  My emotions and thoughts are packaged away as much as possible.  Reacting consumes quite a bit of internal energy.  Welcome to The Protector.

I listened to a visualization exercise a while ago that has stuck with me.  The topic was about relationships and vulnerability, or as the recording called it, “intimacy.”  Just hearing the i-word at the beginning of the recording caused a flutter of panic, but I kept listening.

I visualized the setting of a recent significant conversation.  I recalled the feelings of wanting to lean in and yet holding back and not knowing what to do or say and realizing that I was holding my breath so then I tried to breathe normally as I sat very still because I didn’t want to disrupt the moment as my friend talked about something deeply personal.  And as the visualization guide instructed me to picture a wall between the two of us, I happily envisioned a black marble slab that spanned vertically as high as I could see.  I imagined the cold, smooth texture against my hands.  I felt safe touching the wall.  Best wall ever.

Then the guide requested that I remove the wall.  So soon?  I was just getting to know my feelings from the safety of this side of the wall, and now I was slowly removing chunks of the wall.  I would peek over the top at my friend and then hide behind the remaining wall.  Piece by piece, the wall came down.  This was it: intimacy.  Seeing and being seen.  I realized I was holding my breath during the visualization.

What is it about a wall that is so appealing?  I think there’s an air of possibility that comes from the wall.  With a wall, we can be both connected and not.  Without a wall, it is one or the other.  It’s like a Schrodinger’s cat scenario where not removing the wall leaves the possibility of emotions open to imagination.  Removing the wall means intimacy.  Scary!  Which is why I shoot lasers from my eyes.  The lasers of you-should-know-better.  Lasers of don’t-tell-me-that-I-failed-you.  Lasers of this-is-important-and-I’m-disappointed.  The disappointment burns inside and finds its way out of my eyes to the rest of the world.  Self: protected.  World: potentially injured.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and I’m working on it.  I remember how wonderful it felt to be embraced in a really long hug by a fellow coach last year.  It had to be at least 10 seconds of hugging.  Wonderful.  I hold back from proposing such hugs with the people who have made it into my acceptable-for-hugging circle because I haven’t found the words, but I do try to put extra care into the hugs I receive from them and hope the other person recognizes that which is unsaid: you matter to me.

Some relationships may be formed easily and some take more time, but I do not form relationships lightly.  It means I see you for what you are and what you can become, and I delight in it all enough to let you see me too.  That’s why I’m learning to power down the lasers and tear down walls.

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.

Games and Exercises - Dev/QA Pairing

Photo by ion-bogdan dumitrescu

Photo by ion-bogdan dumitrescu

As part of my project kickoff/agile chartering workshops for teams, I like to include a game or activity to reinforce the agile values and principles.  I was talking to a Scrum Master who was preparing to lead one of these workshops, and we decided that an exercise to encourage pairing between developers and QA would be beneficial for her team.  So I tweeted this:

I was pleasantly surprised by the responses, and I wanted to share the suggestions I received.  

If you have more suggestions or try some of these, I'd love to hear.

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 My Boringness

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

If you could only pick one, would you rather have a job that is fulfilling or one that is interesting?

My husband makes video games for a living.  At social events and parties, people always want to know what he’s working on and what he’s worked on previously.  Clearly his job is interesting to other people, even when he can’t talk about what’s he doing because the title hasn’t been announced.

I work in an office 40 hours a week and spend most of my time in meetings, writing notes to myself about what I’ve heard and observed, and having conversations with people.  My evenings are filled with activities like hosting user group meetings, attending networking events, and developing my coaching skills through learning and practice.  Vacation time is spent attending conferences and agile coach camps.  My friends and family label all of this as “work stuff.”  Yep, I am a rather boring person:

I don't like to talk about myself much because I think I am boring.  A manager invited me to lunch a while back and made a rule that we couldn't talk about work stuff after I had already agreed to go--I deflated in that moment.  And a coach gave me an inquiry a few weeks ago that rattled me for days:

What would it mean to have a fun, authentic life where people want to work with me?

To me, the clear answer was that this was not the life for me.  Just no.  I am not a fun person.  Do not come to me for fun.  I do not value fun.  Other coaches can give you fun. 

It was a visceral reaction.

Thankfully I realized that I can have a fulfilling, authentic life where people want to work with me.  More importantly to me, I can have an interesting, authentic life where people want to work with me.

I work in an office 40 hours a week and spend most of my time in meetings, writing notes to myself about what I’ve heard and observed, and having conversations with people.  My evenings are filled with activities like hosting user group meetings, attending networking events, and developing my coaching skills through learning and practice.  Vacation time is spent attending conferences and agile coach camps.  I do it all because I find it interesting.

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.

Making Room for Creativity

Photo by Krissy Venosdale

Photo by Krissy Venosdale

It should come as no surprise that my calendar has been full recently--busy is my normal mode of operation.  Most of my time is spent on coaching/coaching-related learning and community involvement/networking, so I do feel like I'm able to move slower and integrate more even though my calendar is filled.  That being said, I realized last week that I was missing a creative outlet in my life.  I've had many ideas to write about, and yet I've struggled to sit down and write more than a few sentences at a time.  My inspiration and motivation have not been enough to complete a post.  I asked myself, "What is the smallest creative step I can take?"

I bought myself a coloring book and crayons.

Rather than check emails, read blogs, or lose time on social media, I colored within the lines like a kid while sitting on the couch with the TV on in the background.  I took my time picking out what color to use and shading in the areas.  It was easier than facing a blank page and trying to find the right words to fill it.  

And now I'm blogging about it.  Creative energy increased just enough to get one post written within my crazy calendar.  Whatever it takes is what it takes.

What do you need to jumpstart for yourself right now?

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.

Imagining a Mature Agile Organization

Photo by dawn Brennan

Photo by dawn Brennan

Some coworkers and I were talking recently about what we thought a really mature agile organization would be like, and one of them had fun re-writing the lyrics to Imagine by John Lennon.  I enjoyed it so much that I had to share:

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.

Great Project Managers are Different than Great Scrum Masters

Photo by Robert Higgins

Photo by Robert Higgins

When agilists talk about the differences between project managers and scrum masters, it often sounds like "scrum masters good, project managers bad."  I've attempted to explain the differences before, and I've gotten some criticism for it.  99u posted an article on Top 10 Characteristics of GREAT Project Managers that I think can help differentiate between the two roles, so let's look at their list and compare:

1. Command authority naturally.

The article elaborates that a great project manager doesn't need borrowed power to enlist the help of others and is valued by the organization.  Great scrum masters are servant leaders who remove impediments for their teams and organizations.  Rather than command "authority," I think they command respect.

2. Possess quick sifting abilities, knowing what to note and what to ignore.

Great scrum masters listen to their intuition and trust their instincts.  Listening and observing a team's interactions, they sense when there is conflict or confusion.  Most importantly, great scrum masters are not tied to their own judgments or interpretations; they frequently ask the team questions to foster a shared understanding and encourage the team to own decisions.  They also help protect the team from distractions during the sprint, so the team can focus on the sprint goal.

3. Set, observe, and re-evaluate project priorities frequently.

To me, the difference between a project manager and a scrum master is what they are focused on.  Project managers are focused on the project work, and a scrum master is focused on fostering a high performing team.  There are absolutely project managers who also foster high performing teams, and there are certainly scrum masters who work very closely with their product owners and teams to help them manage projects.  But what I experienced as a project manager who transitioned to a scrum master, and what I see for those I coach to make the same transition, is that we get triggered and revert back to some old behaviors--not just command and control behaviors, but also ones where we feel the need to understand details or reprioritize work for efficiencies or offer solutions.  The product owner is responsible for setting priorities in scrum (not the scrum master).

4. Ask good questions and listen to stakeholders.

Scrum masters do ask questions--powerful questions that push the team's thinking to create possibility.  They inspire and motivate and move the team closer to what they desire.  In fact, many of the questions that a scrum master asks might not be for him to understand better--it is for the team to gain a better understanding.  The scrum master is listening to what is being said and what is not.  He notices how in tune the team is with the product owner, stakeholders, and customers.  A project manager often asks questions to gain clarification for herself and for her project team.

5. Do not use information as a weapon or a means of control.

Scrum is based on transparency, and scrum masters also do not use information as a weapon or a means of control.

6. Adhere to predictable communication schedules

Scrum masters may uphold the team's sprint cadence and set some regular communications.  I've also noticed that great scrum masters are communicating regularly and don't wait for a meeting to provide information.

7. Possess domain expertise in project management as applied to a particular field.

Scrum masters need some expertise in scrum and may not need to know deeply about the particular field or domain their team is working in. When hiring a scrum master, experience in a given field is rarely a requirement.

8. Exercise independent and fair consensus-building skills when conflict arises.

Scrum masters expect constructive disagreement within their teams and facilitate conflict as needed.  Their goal is to help the team to process the conflict and come to a consensus.

9. Cultivate and rely on extensive informal networks inside and outside the firm to solve problems that arise.

This is a must in order for scrum masters to remove impediments.

10. Look forward to going to work!

I hope this is true for Scrum Masters too!  

Transitioning from a project manager to a scrum master is like learning to dance--some people pick it up quickly, and others take longer.  The dance is in figuring out when to teach, when to facilitate, when to coach, and when to mentor.  It is challenging, and I think that's what makes it interesting.  A project manager role is different from a scrum master role, and that's not to say that one is better than the other: they just have different expectations and responsibilities.

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.

What is the Future of Agile Coaching?

Photo by Vox Efx

Photo by Vox Efx

When I was growing up, I never imagined that I would become an agile coach.  I had no idea what that meant--it didn't exist.  I wanted to be an artist, a music teacher, a programmer, an interior decorator... I wanted to be a lot of different things over the years.  And now that I am an agile coach, I sometimes wonder what I'll be doing years from now.  Where is our industry headed?  Will agile coaching still exist?

If you look at the Agile Manifesto, it seems like agile will likely still be around in 10+ years.  I don't know if agile will be a "thing" or just the way that software is developed, without need for the label.  If that's the case, then agile coaching may move into regular consulting, mentoring, or coaching.  The coaching industry is also evolving as a profession:

What do you think we'll be doing 10 years from now?

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 Retrospective on Listening (and Talking)

Photo by Britt Reints

Photo by Britt Reints

Do you know how to design a retrospective to be engaging, produce new thinking, and lead to clear actions for the next sprint?  I find it to be an exciting challenge to facilitate great retrospective, so much so that one of my friends refers to me as the “Retrospective Diva.”

This week I had the opportunity to design and facilitate a retrospective for one of my teams, and I wanted to share not just what I did but how and why.

Context

The team is working on a very large and important project, which has kept them feeling busy and overwhelmed.  In meetings, team members are often multitasking to keep up with the workload.  Talking to team members one-on-one, I found that they have ideas about how to address some of the project challenges better and feel like they talk about the same problems in retrospectives only to find that nothing changes.  Team members are ready to adopt changes, but there are some destructive conflict behaviors (both active and passive) that need to be addressed.

Defining the Retrospective Goal

After talking to individual team members about what they wanted to address in a retrospective, I found it difficult to identify a common theme.  I reflected on the situation more and realized that they were talking to their manager and me… and I wondered what it was like to not talk as a team about how things were going.  I recognized the indicators of unhappiness present in their body language and tone of voice, and I realized that they were too distracted in meetings to recognize what was being said and not said.  It was clear: the team needed to think about listening and talking more openly.

Designing the Retrospective Agenda

Now that I had selected the goal, it was time to outline the retrospective itself.  How could I provide safety for everyone to participate?  What activities should I use?  Where did the team need to look for future actions?

Set the Stage - 5 minutes

I would only have one hour for the retrospective, so I had to plan my time wisely; knowing how important it would be to have everyone participating, I wanted to engage them within the first five minutes.  In Set the Stage, I would explain the retrospective goal and how I selected it to gain their buy-in and approval to explore it for the hour.  To establish a light tone and invite participation, I decided to open with a quick show of hands--who liked to talk?  Who liked to listen?  Who liked to work alone so they didn't have to talk or listen?  I made sure to laugh as I said the last one.  

Gather Data - 10 minutes

As I thought about what kind of data I wanted to have the team reflect upon, I kept coming back to the question: what is it like to not talk as a team about how things are going?  I wanted them to recognize the differences between the open flow of communication and the communication they’d been experiencing.  The metaphor of a traffic light came to mind.

  • Green – Speaking honestly and fully what’s on your mind / hearing what is being said and how it is being said
  • Yellow – Guarded or cautious in what you say / hearing the words being said but distracted as a listener
  • Red – Not speaking at all or advocating strongly for your ideas / checking out or being closed to other ideas

To gather data, I described the red/yellow/green metaphor and gave each team member a piece of paper with a traffic light image on it.  They indicated on the paper which color best represented the last sprint for them and collected them; I shared the overall results on the whiteboard at the front of the room by putting a check mark next to the color indicated on each paper.  What did they notice about the results?  Were there any surprises?  

Generate Insights - 15 minutes

To generate insights, I wanted them to discuss in pairs what it was like to be in a particular color—red, then yellow, then green.  This way each person would be encouraged to participate and speak more openly.  Rather than let the pairs discuss all of the colors for a long timebox, I wanted to break it down into separate timeboxes for each color with some group sharing in between.  

Decide What to Do - 20 minutes

After reflecting on what it felt like to be in a particular color and what caused them to be in that place, the group could brainstorm options on how to get more green in the next sprint (decide what to do).  I made a note to myself to be prepared to ask questions so it would be clear what the actions are, who the owner is, and how the team would know they succeeded at the end of the sprint.  

Close the Retrospective - 5 minutes

To wrap up, I would recap the action items and how they would be reviewed periodically during the sprint and in the next retrospective, thank everyone for their participation, and invite them to give me feedback outside of the meeting.

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.

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.