As I sometimes get asked about what Agile coaches do during their day, I thought about making a list. I also thought about the idea of showcasing a day in the life of an Agile Coach and this is how this post came to be.
This is a day in my life a few years back when I was first starting as an Agile Coach.
It’s 8:30 as I get to the office, and as soon as I put my bag down, I go to the kitchen for my morning coffee. Not only it’s great because we have many flavoured choices, but it’s also time to fraternize with my team members. Today a friend is coming back from vacation, and she has a new hair color. I bet that daily Scrum will be high energy! I also learn in a corner, still with my coffee but with another team member, that he is dealing with some interpersonal issues with the new team member. I ask a few questions about how he feels and the support he needs. That seems to be manageable by now, but I will keep my eyes and ears noticing the dynamics. Those are the simple things that can escalate.
After checking my emails and my calendar for the day, it’s time to honor the first work session. This Product Owner asked for help with prioritization. As I help her understand her priorities, I remind her that it’s not because the client asks for something that it becomes automatically a priority. Roadmap and vision are a more holistic thing, considering all clients, company directions, and that the whole team needs to honor those commitments. We remember the team is complaining about starting and stopping work all the time. She comes out of our work session with a list of questions to ask herself when sorting her backlog and a point system for business value. She tried those immediately in her current backlog and she’s excited to experiment in the upcoming weeks. Not too bad for a 1h meeting.
As I go to my desk, which is in the open space with the teams I support, I talk to one of the teams that is just finishing their daily standup. The board looks awesome with the new changes to include who’s in support that week. They are now using avatars since the last retro. They like the avatars so much that they will just use those for the board for all tasks, not just support. It’s very visual and fun.
I get pinged by the chief Product Owner (PO) and meet him in his office. I grab my basket of pens and post-its because I never leave unprepared! He is having a hard time with visibility of what all the POs are doing. I ask what exactly is not visible and how is that a problem. We throw thoughts on the whiteboard, and we toy with the idea of a dashboard. It’s easy to imagine what to ask the POs to provide as information, but how will he, the Chief PO, provide transparency on what he is doing and what he needs? His part needs to meet transparency to make it all fair. He needs to think, he says. Absolutely! I leave him with his thoughts.
My people manager is waiting for me outside of the Chief PO’s office, which is unusual. It seems urgent, but he’s doing some small talk… I suggest we go to the kitchen, where I can drink some water and he can tell me what he needs to tell me. He finally gives me feedback about a work session we all had last week about 360 systems in the company. He tells me I have been too adamant in that session, particularly with our Vice-President (VP) of HR, when we were all discussing the frequency of the 360 evaluations. He wonders if I could have been more delicate. It definitely stings as I don’t recall being harsh. I do remember asking a lot of questions in a room where everybody seemed to have lots of opinions. I knew I was being direct, exactly as our VP of HR was. But this is feedback. So, I take the feedback and thank my manager. And I know I have to think about this session a little deeper.
Mornings go by fast in this place! It’s already time to attend the daily standup with one of my remote teams. Time to go to the computer and show up on camera. As the team is new and conversations are slow to warm up, I start the call with a word of the day being “Progress”. Seems fitting for a standup! As the team is too focused on individual tasks, I meddle a bit and show them the board via screen-sharing. I invite them to look at the planned activities, from top to bottom, right to left. Why? Because we operate in priorities and we focus on finishing, not on starting. It was timely, as we seem to have too many items in flight, with everybody working in isolation. I make a note of possible retrospective items.
Lunch time and today I go out with one of the teams. Not only do they love working and having lunch together, they are celebrating someone’s birthday and we all go get a burger. I stick with a veggie poutine, as I’m vegetarian. I don’t often do those eating outside as usually lunch time is when I can get quiet time. But hey, this one deserved!
After lunch and after pondering a bit, I go talk to the VP of HR to hear from her instead of playing it all in my head. I cut to the chase and ask how she feels about the last work session. She says she felt unheard. I apologize and acknowledge her. I ask her what could have made her feel more heard and considered. While she says she’s not sure, I recall that I noticed back then the temperature in the room moving up, but somehow I thought we were more aligned and just kept going. I did not stop and check or reset. Maybe I did not let the space breathe so much. A great reminder for me to actually get feedback IN THE MOMENT when possible.
After the discussion, I take some more time to reflect and figure out a better ritual to make sure I listen more in the conversations and especially to take a step back when I notice energy shifts. I also google about NVC (non-violent communication) and how passionate discussions can sometimes cross the line when different personalities and styles are present.
Coffee break with another team. I always love how the kitchen has so much action. There we engaged in a conversation about technical Agility and share perspectives. From my end, I shared how I believe from my experience that it is not necessary for starting, but it’s a limiting success for scalability. You become more error-prone, you have more things to release, to keep tests on, etc. There are just many good practices that become best practices for a reason. At the same time, don’t let the tools stop you; start from where you are now. We’re not debating to win and all opinions count. We’re just learning from each other. It’s time to continue the afternoon because it became a 20 min session!
One of the Scrum Masters come to talk to me. He wants to discuss possible formats for retrospectives. He tells me how the team is not engaged by any means. It’s a new team and he’s having a hard time winning their trust. A bunch of guys being guys, he says. I ask what if he is the influence? What if he removes himself, the influence, from the equation? Give them the time, the boundaries, and minimal instructions, and leave the retrospective in their hands. He gets excited by the idea and goes for it.
I look at my backlog of tasks and rearrange my board to reflect what’s done. I also reorganize items based on priorities. It looks solid for tomorrow. I have a meeting with a director to discuss how agile the support team is. I know it will be a conversation of undoing misconceptions given how he presented his case. I also know it’s going to be important to listen and ideate. I check again to see that we have a room with a whiteboard and materials. We can’t have that discussion without literally drawing and placing things. I make a note to remember in the morning to ask once again if he wants to invite one of the team members for more perspective.
I read a bit on operations and support dynamics, as I’ve mostly been part of the support that happens inside development teams, and I don’t want my assumptions to take over. I take notes in my usual chaotic post-it style. Hey, it works for my brain!
I clean my desk and it’s time to leave. It’s snowing!
I go home and plan to read my newly acquired book on non-violent communication on kindle on my train commute home. I read what I can in 40 minutes, but I put that aside when I get home, because the most important thing then is to have dinner with my husband and hear all the crazy things that happened today for him.
How about you?
That was a day in the life of an Agile Coach drawn from my own professional life. We have alone time, team time, impromptu time. There’s always a balanced mix of planned and spontaneous events. There’s always a little bit of teaching in the moment and being quick on one’s feet.
How about you? Have you experienced anything similar in your day-to-day? What could you observe in this day I shared that could be helpful for you in your own journey?