Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Articles Q&A on “The Coaching Booster”

Q&A on “The Coaching Booster”


The book the Coaching Booster by Shirly Ronen-Harel and Jens R. Woinowski explores different coaching methods and practices and describes a coaching framework which can support coaches in helping people to reach their goals.

InfoQ did an interview with Shirly Ronen-Harel and Jens R. Woinowski and asked them why they based their book on lean and agile methods, why change needs to become an ingrained habit, how you can establish a rhythm of action, the value that a coachee can get from coaching, combining retrospectives with agile coaching, and what people can do to develop their coaching skills.

InfoQ: What made you decide to write a book on coaching and base it upon lean and agile methods?

Ronen-Harel: In our day to day work as coaches we mostly deal with teams and organizations that need to change  in one way or another to become more productive. We use all of those wonderful Agile and Lean methods that allow a better and faster reaction to ever changing business needs, changing environments and business challenges. But we cannot separate the individuals from the organizational situations, and we also find ourselves dealing with lots of personal and inter-personal coaching aspects.

We find ourselves applying those Lean and Agile principles in the personal field as well. After all you cannot be efficient or effective or build any process without the people in mind. It just won't work.

Woinowski: Lean and Agile tools are powerful approaches. They are amazingly practical. We think that every coach should be familiar with them, regardless of their coaching method of choice. They enhance motivation, boost productivity, promote innovation, and have been tested (and proven) in real-life situations. The Agile and Lean mindset of empowerment elevates learning, and it teaches us to adapt and to react to change.

The world around us is also becoming more and more complex and the pace of technological change is one of the highest in recorded history. Naturally, this new reality creates new challenges. The goals that we want to achieve, for example, can be ever-changing – and therefore in some traditional approaches seem unachievable. To face these challenges, we need strategies that will help us regain a feeling of control over our goals, and help us reach them.

We need ideas that will enable us grow and flourish, while at the same time help us face the uncertainties of change. 

Ronen-Harel: The need to develop new strategies and ideas, and adapt to changes, is at the heart of many coaching processes. Why? Because as coaches, we recognize our coachees’ universal need to deal with change. They need to understand what needs to be changed, and they need to learn how to both preserve their newfound behavior.

Looking at Lean and Agile, you might actually recognize certain coaching methods that employ these tools. The difference is that some coaches use some of the tools some of the time. We have decided to present the whole toolset as one package and advise coaches to emphasize some practices above others and not treat each tool individually and separate from the others. This way coaches will have the full toolset in one package either to better react to a changing environment and goals or to easily get familiar with those helpful coaching boosters.

InfoQ: In the book you state that change needs to become an ingrained habit. Can you explain this?

Woinowski: When you look around, you see that change has become an important driver of our lives. The way we work, live, and communicate has changed tremendously in the last decade and is still changing as we speak. Things we used to do five years ago are no longer relevant.

Ronen-Harel: This may even apply to things we are doing right now or that we want to achieve in the near future. They may be no longer relevant in a year from now. Or there will be new ways of looking at them due to the changing environment. There may be new opportunities opening for us instead of others closing, opening faster than we can grasp. Everything changes. Everything changes all the time. And change becomes faster, or at least you can have the impression that it gains speed.

Woinowski: But change is nothing that is really natural for us humans. Adaptability aside, most will prefer stability. But at the end of the day we will need to react fast to our changing environment, and constantly learn new things.

Here comes our approach of "change as a habit." When you accept the necessity of it, you can make change your standard approach, thus creating stability by looking at change differently. Change is just something that we have to accept and get used to. We can’t avoid it – it is our new reality.

Ronen-Harel: It’s simpler than it sounds. Using those Lean and Agile methods and mindset will create the ability to integrate change and the ability to easily react to it into our routine. It will also help us regain the feeling of control over our goals and action even though they are ever changing.

InfoQ: To do change you mentioned that you need to establish a constant heartbeat, a rhythm of action. Can you give some examples how this can be done?

Ronen-Harel: When we say “heartbeat”, what we mean is a rhythm. It is a fixed and repeating cycle of activity with a few rules and actions to follow.

Let's for example look at the classical New Year's resolution to do more sports. We wanted to go to the gym and exercise. We really, really did. But we couldn’t. One day, there was a Parents-Teacher meeting. Another day our kid wasn’t feeling well. And Thursday, well, that’s the day we stay late at the office.

If you don’t stick to your routine, you’ll find that there’s always something that you have to get done before you go to the gym. And at the end of the week, you realize that you haven’t even gone once. You’ll wonder how you didn’t manage to spare a few hours for doing a little physical exercise.

Woinowski: It’s much easier to make it real if you create a constant rhythm. A small and constant rhythm, in small doses.  A little sport everyday (even if it’s only one pushup) gets you into the habit. The heartbeat is supporting not only the activity itself, but also monitoring progress. It is easier to ask yourself every evening if you did your exercises than to just check it every week.

The concept of taking several steps to get closer to the goal, in fixed small time frames shows you how to break down ‘forever’ into smaller chunks of time. This is what we call the heartbeat.

Ronen-Harel: The heartbeat makes it easier to see progress, to correct mistakes or to change decisions. It makes it easier to react to changes and change accordingly in the next heartbeat. The heartbeat holds a beginning, and an end. The most important aspect is that it’s constant and stable -- it helps us get things done. Suddenly, even the most unachievable goals become something you can reach, not something that will always stay out of your grasp. Yes, even those that feel like they will take forever to reach.

InfoQ: Can you elaborate on the value that a coachee can get from coaching?

Woinowski: Value is one of the most important concepts in Lean, it is what your coachee is really looking for. It is what you should deliver to them. If what you are doing doesn’t add value – just don’t do it.

As coaches, obviously, we want to give the coachees value. So we need to identify what they really want, and tailor our solution accordingly. In our case, we want to help coachees achieve their desired behavior, or at least get feedback that puts them on the right track.  

Ronen-Harel: We place value in the center. We do know that a lot of other coaching methods are also looking to identify value. The booster suggests emphasizing it, doing it all the time. The coach encourages and helps the coachee to identify his own value, related to his goals, abilities, strength, etc., and help him attain it. This is no simple task.

So, first of all, the coach should provide an independent pair of eyes that helps the coachee to get feedback where he or she is stuck in a situation. In that sense the coach is like a personal trainer in sports.  The coach should hold the mindset of placing value in the center. Secondly, the coach can support the coachee with his experience of change processes.

Woinowski: There are many examples of value oriented approaches in the book. For example, with the root value analysis, there is a very simple process to get from personal goals to the underlying value or need of the coachees.

By asking repeatedly "Why do you want to this?" the coach helps to unravel the true motivation of the coachee. Having done this, it’s much easier to find targeted actions towards our goal or to change the goal if it would be in conflict with the real need. Thus the coach is able to provide the real value to the coachee instead of just fiddling with symptoms.

InfoQ: You wrote about succeeding with mistakes in your book. Can you explain what you mean with this?

Ronen-Harel: “The only way to never fail is to never try” or “we learn from our mistakes” – these are sentences we believe many of us heard again and again since our childhood.

Our favorite example is the way children learn to walk. They give it a try, first with just standing up. Sooner or later they will fall. If they would say to themselves "I have tried that walking thing, seems I am not made for it," this would be the end of the story. But this is not what happens, they stand up, give it another try. And they repeat to learn from falling until one day they can walk their first steps.

Woinowski: We adults have often forgotten that you cannot learn or change without failure. We have so many things successfully achieved on the one hand and our goals are much bigger on the other hand. This leads to a lower threshold for frustration to kick in. By accepting failure as a natural part of every change process we can use it as feedback to improve or to adapt a goal to something more realistic instead of completely giving up.

Making room for trying and making mistakes is one of the things we believe in the most. After all, we all make mistakes, all the time.  

Ronen-Harel: But this is not enough. The question is, do we learn from our mistakes? Meaning: do we truly learn? And the more important question is, do we know how to make mistakes in order to learn? This is the real value, to know how to learn from those failures and grow.

InfoQ: Can you give some examples how agile retrospectives can be combined with agile coaching?

Woinowski: Agile retrospectives can be used during coaching sessions to make the coachee familiar with a simple way of learning from the recent past, while it is still alive in memory. Over the time, the coachee will learn to do that on her or his own as well. Retrospectives are also crucial for the “change as a habit” thinking we talked about before, because part of that routine needs to be feedback.

Ronen-Harel: In fact, we think that coaching can't do without a retrospective (and as we know there are many forms and types of retrospective).

When you use retrospective as a part of the constant heartbeat, it is one of the greatest ways to point out feedback. This feedback will be actually relevant to the coachee’s actions and choices and his vision.

InfoQ: Do you have suggestions how people can identify personal waste, and get rid of it? What can a coach do to help them?

Woinowski: The first step is to understand waste. It is activity or things that doesn’t add any value for your coachee. Waste should be removed, so that you can focus on more important things.

Ronen-Harel: We firmly believe that more than half of the job is done when people learn what waste is and that you find it everywhere. Using the 7+1 types of waste defined in Lean gives a simple framework for that. The coach can especially help by opening the coachee's eyes for non-obvious waste.

Woinowski: The coach can perform "waste identifications" sessions to help the coachee understand waste. My best example is inventory. We all have lots of inventory (books in our shelves, mail in the inbox, maybe old food the fridge, and so on), but we often do not see it. In a session dedicated to finding and reducing inventory waste, the coach can further the coachee's understanding and help to find ways to get rid of inventory.

InfoQ: If people want to develop their coaching skills, which advice do you want to give them?

Ronen-Harel: Coaching is a vast area, there's a lot to learn and know. We believe you need to get familiar with many fields of interest from theory to practical techniques, psychology, philosophy and many more.

Knowing and understanding the Agile and Lean mindset and tools will give you avenues for exploring all of those different fields. It doesn’t matter which road you take or which field of coaching you deal with, or what type of coaching you choose to practice. Lean and Agile will elevate the way you as a coach learn and boost the way you achieve results.

Woinowski: Any good coaching should follow the "don't give a fish, teach fishing" principle. On top of that: read a lot, ask a lot. And get a partner or coach that helps you to find your own blind spots.

About the Book Authors

Shirly Ronen-Harel is a coach and consultant in Agile / Lean methods. She provides Agile and lean solutions using methods like Scrum, Kanban, Agile Testing, Agile product, DevOps, agile project management and such. She is also author of 'The coaching Booster Book , and the 'Agile Kids' books and currently writing her new book. Read her blog AgiloPedia and follow her on Twitter: @shirlyronenrl.

 Jens R. Woinowski has been in the IT business for more than 20 years and is currently quality and risk manager at a major IT company. While studying and applying lean principles as part of his job, Woinowski discovered that lean management principles were as relevant in personal life as in business. In his blog Lean Self he shares insights of this discovery to the public.Follow him on Twitter: @Leanself

Rate this Article