Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Interviews Michael Hamman, Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd on Integral Agile and Coaching for Teams, Management and the Enterprise

Michael Hamman, Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd on Integral Agile and Coaching for Teams, Management and the Enterprise


1. Hi, my name is Craig Smith, I am an Agile editor at InfoQ and we are here at Agile 2015 in Washington DC. In front of me I have the three principals or perhaps, how I like to call them, the three amigos of the Agile Coaching Institute: I have Michael Hamman, Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd. Welcome.

Hamman: Thank you.

Spayd: Thank you.

Adkins: This one is Hammond, this one is Spayd.

Hamman: That one is Spayd, this one is Hammond.

Craig: Excellent. We’ll figure it out by the end. I always refer to you guys as the coaches for Agile coaches and it is great to see you. You have expanded by one!

Adkins: Yes we have.

Craig: Michael, tell us a little bit about yourself for people haven’t heard of you before.

Hamman: I have been working mainly with executives and managers for the last 10 or 12 years. I actually started out in professional coaching and was also a software developer, so I have been all over the place, but mainly it is focusing on helping managers and leaders understand what does it means to lead an Agile organization and create adaptive change. So that has been my focus.

Spayd: We brought him in, I mean our focus has obviously been coaches and Scrum Masters and what not and we brought Michael in specifically because so many coaches that we taught said you’ve got to do this kind of a training for managers and we said we need somebody like Michael that really knows how to work with executives and managers in that perspective. It is the next wave of what is important in terms of moving of the needle of role. There is no definition of what managers do.

Hamman: So we don’t really have a framework for that.

Craig: I guess when you think about coaching, I think you refer to it as the three personas, the people who look after the team and coach them on their techniques, that’s a speciality I think that people should know you about Lyssa particularly through your awesome book, which is the bible for Agile coaches. Then we have got the enterprise side, which you bring to the table, Michael, and now obviously leaders and managers who are actually leading the organization.

Adkins: You know, what we are really good at is being willing to take a stand for what these roles should know, do and be, at various levels of their development. Not that it is necessarily right, but it’s directionally correct and it’s enough to really shift people to move into what are essentially new century leadership skills at all levels in the organization: Scrum Master, Kanban lead, Agile Coach, middle manager, leader, Enterprise Agile Coach. At all those levels.

Hamman: It is a way of thinking about training and coaching transformational leaders at all levels, including the top level and the middle level.


2. One of the things that is a really useful resource that you have is the Agile competency coaching framework, which takes people on a journey to what they need to know as a coach. How does that now develop in relation to your new personas here?

Spayd: Let’s just start with reviewing the four basic skill sets. There is eight areas, but four basic ones: teaching and mentoring are the ones that people probably are the most familiar with, they probably use the most where you have to have content expertise of some kind. On the other side of that – facilitation and professional coaching skills, where you don’t have an agenda, where you don’t have something that you are trying to influence in terms of content, you are really trying to facilitate a process for somebody. That is the kind of basics of it. We and others have developed classes in the facilitation part, facilitating people in Agile practices, specifically using professional facilitation skills in Agile practices and then specifically using all four skills, that is professional coaching, which is the one that people know the least and teaching, mentoring, facilitation together. How do you choose? The learning path that we work with, that we developed with ICAgile, the International Consortium for Agile, addresses all four of those and that is a good basis and then we are starting to try to define what’s the endpoint. It is not just basic knowledge about that, but some kind of mastery.

Adkins: So we are just now offering publicly our first Competency Cohort, which is for people who have taken our courses and who really want to develop some level of competence in those four skillsets and competence that is measurable – that they can see where they stand and improve and the whole purpose of that is to be able to bring those skills fully into their work, because we know that classroom learning is not enough and we also know that when people go back to their organizations, it is not nearly as friendly as the classroom environment was, where they were practicing with us. So, it is a really useful model for a fairly long period of time to really embed the skills and along the way get assessed to a level of competence that meets and even exceeds the industry standards for Agile coaching at the program level.

Craig: And is the hope that, because one of the things I think with coaches, you can go and facilitate a retrospective and call yourself and Agile Coach out there, is the hope that if we start to really make people understand the framework and understand the key skills that this will help differentiate the good coaches from those who are maybe just starting on their journey.

Adkins: Well, it’s a bit of “define the profession”, but there is a bigger end game in it for us, which is that we would like to see Agile healthy and sustainable and certainly our specific niche and the place where we are gifted and can help the industry is in these specific roles of coaches at all levels of their maturity, including the ones who choose to be Enterprise Agile Coaches and managers and leaders. So, yes, it is about building competence, but it is not about that that is an achievement oriented kind of thing. It is doing that in service of Agile being healthy and creating the amazing business results we are hoping for and that so few of us get.

Spayd: And many people, they don’t say that as much anymore, but they used to certainly say a lot: “I have taken a Certified Scrum Master class or some kind of Agile basics class and now I am a Scrum Master and now I am a coach”. That is not very much training, right? That is not very much development.

Adkins: Right.

Spayd: Now there is really a full path, a whole curriculum that takes about five days with anybody’s implementation of it and then six months of practicing and then an assessment of you have competency. So there is really a full pathway to develop yourself as an Agile Coach or a Scrum Master at this point. Our goal is to help articulate that professional development, what does it even look like, to the end of what Lyssa was saying about having sustainable Agile and healthy Agile. You, as a Scrum Master and Agile Coach, have to know what that looks like and before, there was so little definition around that. The framework that we have is trying to give different pathways, like there is technical pathways that are different from business-oriented pathways, that’s different from transformation oriented-pathways, but that there is some, it’s like having a core curriculum and then a speciality track or something. It is giving definition and language to that and real structures.

Hamman: And we see that when students navigate that framework, it actually becomes a catalyst for their deeper development as leaders. So there is something kind of magical that happens as people make these distinctions.

Craig: One of the things when you do explain the framework is sometimes there is this expectation that you can be good at all of those and the reality is that there is usually a horse that you have to back and have some knowledge of the others.

Adkins: When we help Agile coaches choose how they want to develop using this framework, we explicitly say: “Choose one of these that you are not going to develop right now. Later you might want to pick it up. Fine! But let yourself off the hook for at least one of these down in the transformation, business and technical mastery area”. You know, I am just realizing as we are explaining this, something that is important for me for people to know is that there is a learning pathway for Agile Coaches from one or a few teams – if you are the Scrum Master, or the Coach or the Kanban lear of one or a few teams, up to multiple teams where you have a much larger scope, helping Agile be healthy across a large program or something like that. And that that, when you achieve a level of competence there, that is a terminus point. Not everyone has to move into Enterprise Agile Coaching and my thought about it is that if we have teams that are more healthy, if they are producing more value, we will have far less need for so many people to be working in the enterprise goo.

Hamman: Or at least the people who are working in the enterprise goo are able to focus on making it less gooey.

Adkins: That’s right. Yes.

Hamman: Let’s focus on getting teams up and going and healthy and all that kind of stuff.

Adkins: I love it.

Craig: I am glad that you used the word goo there.

Spayd: That is why we brought him in.

Adkins: That is right.

Hamman: A technical language that’s introduced.


3. One of the things, Michael, that you have talking about here is your Integral Agile transformation framework, it has gone through a few name changes and the like. Where is that at the moment? Can you tell us a little bit more about your work there?

Spayd: Yes, sure, thanks. It is the foundation of the book that I am writing called “Coaching the Agile Enterprise” that has taken an excessively long period of time to write.

Craig: It is a waterfall implementation, is it?

Adkins: No, it has to be right.

Hamman: That is right.

Spayd: I released at least part of it already, I had to pull it back, for various reasons. I’ve defined the basic framework, the Integral Agile transformation framework which is about the four quadrants and people have heard about that and you can Google this and probably find some presentations I have made online and we have a little bit on our own website. “I”, “we”, “it” and “its”, the four fundamental perspectives, and then four or five altitudes that are societal, organization, culture, complexity. That is kind of the meta-map and that gives you a way of comparing things, like comparing what a scaled framework does, for instance, to what a leadership development program does. They are both valuable, you need both of them probably, but they are very different and they come in very different perspectives and they look at very different kinds of things. They use different methodologies, they use different technologies and some people are good at one, but not the other. Usually people aren’t good at both those kinds of things. So, giving a place for those different things and we have been using it a great deal in our classes. We teach almost all our classes using this framework now. We have recently revamped Coaching Agile Teams class to version 3.0 with Integral Agile and we can talk more about that, if you are interested. We use it in our beginning path for Enterprise Coaches, we have an Integral Agile boot camp for Enterprise Coaches and it is coming into play for the leadership space.

Adkins: So, what the coaching competency framework is for Agile coaches, and we have also brought it into Integral Agile, but what that framework is for Agile coaches, a version of the Integral Agile framework being more specific with managers about where they focus in each of the four quadrants, how they look at their world and decide how to intervene, how to enable the healthy product flow of their organization. That is the equivalent in the management world – are those four quadrants.

Hamman: The thing for managers and leaders is that the mindset shift that we teach in those classes is essentially moving from managing to results, to designing environments in which those results naturally occur. So, it is like a different mindset and of course then the question is: OK. We are dealing with organizational complexity. Managers and leaders face organizational complexity. How do we get to the other side of complexity? What is the simplicity on the other side of complexity? So this four quadrant compass, in a sense, allows managers and leaders to get their hands on the leavers and dials around what it means to grow leadership in the “I” quadrant, what does it mean to be a stand for and understand the deep logic of Agile discipline and be a stand for that and a champion for that, what does it mean to translate all of those pesky impediments into ways of researching what is going on more deeply in our organization and so on.


4. That’s an interesting thing, as managers have always had their own discipline and you obviously come from that background. What has been the reaction now, as you try to bring these things together. Is there a resistance that it is just another thing or are people embracing it because it is so closely tied to the Agile way of working and thinking?

Hamman: What we are finding is that people are really embracing it. I think it is a startling idea. I mean, first of all the notion of standing back and “What? I am standing back and designing environments. That is a little woo-woo for me!” And yet, this framework is also really practical because it says to the manager “OK, here is your role as a coach leader is to develop leaders in your organization. Your role as a business leader is to be a stand for deep Agile discipline, in order to minimize cost of ownership and all that kind of stuff” So it really literally gives tools, practical tools to managers, while at the same time being kind of like expanding their mindset. Spayd: You know, I would say, my take on it would be it is both a relief that you have named what I need to do and it’s a bit of a challenge or even a burden. It’s an awfully big job, both of those two things. It is not a simplistic list of behaviors that you should gain.

Adkins: Or the five games that you should play with your direct reports.

Hamman: That is a really good point and I think in a sense, when managers and leaders discover the depth of their role, that in a sense that’s almost a relief.

Adkins: Like “There is a role for me!”

Hamman: It is like “Wow. I have something I can sink my teeth into” Adkins: Because otherwise they are kind of left to their own devices to go and do what they do and a lot of what they do is of very old-centric leadership Based and they don’t know what to do. And we have had a lot of tools and ideas formanagement but we haven’t had something that says “Here is a holistic way of looking at a manager. Here is what you can aspire to”. And of course, what happens with managers is the same thing that happens with coaches is that they hit a huge identity crisis. They come to our classes thinking I am going to get me some tools and they come out thinking “Oh, my Gosh! My whole world has changed!”

Hamman: Similar to the Agile coaching classes, the management leadership classes, the managers and leaders come out of that – their mind has been shifted and they have some sense: “OK. How can we make this happen?” and they actually have some sense of how to do that.

Craig: I wonder whether it almost legitimizes the whole Agile approach, it takes away from being that “It’s just some things that the developers were doing in the corner” to saying “This is how we can now take something and we can really transform our organization”

Adkins: Yes.

Spayd: Agile deals with complexity within the domain of software development per se, and this takes it to the level of how you deal with the organizational complexity that results from that or that is already there for any reasons just because how much churn there is in the business world and in the world in general and it says “Here is your role within that” It is like a whole new discipline, it is far from an easy thing to just knock it off.”

Hamman: So we teach basic practices and skills. Obviously we can’t teach everything in two days and yet it is enough to give people a taste. People come out of here being enabled in a different way, they see their task quite differently and they are able to solve a lot more of their management and leadership problems.

Adkins: What I really like about it is that it calls managers to a new level of leaderfullness that is needed in the organizations for us to use adaptive practices and it really calls them to be what Agile teams have been crying for.

Craig: I guess then the whole thing comes back because if you have leaders understanding that and using the framework, that thing comes back to the coaching approaches and helps the coach.

Adkins: They can reinforce each other.

Spayd: We did not talk too much about this, but on the level of a coach or a Scrum Master, we also take the four-quadrant approach and what is the job of a coach or a Scrum Master looking through those four perspectives or those four windows. That is what we are exploring in the Coaching Agile Teams classes, which is different from what we used to do. It is a different way of organizing a lot of the content in the class.

Adkins: It really helps people who are working with a handful of teams or even in a big program level. It helps them be more careful about what interventions they chose. Instead of going willy-nilly, doing whatever I can think of today, it is really a thoughtful way of looking at the complexity in the environment around that a team or a set of teams and choosing what is going to be the biggest impact. Let me go and do that thing.


5. You mentioned a little earlier Michael that Coaching Agile Teams has gone to 3.0 and this framework is in there. What are some of the other things that coaches might be interested in knowing about that’s new in that class?

Adkins: You know, it’s so normal to us now. We have been teaching it for eight months now and we are like “Hmm, what is new?”

Hamman: I think one of the things that is new is how to work with environments.

Adkins: Yes. Thanks Michael.

Hamman: Because it is a little bit of a mystery and in a sense it’s kind of where it all links up with the management class because in the management class we teach them how to deal with systems and how to deal with the kinds of environmental issues that teams face. So, in Coaching Agile Teams 3.0, we teach some tools to at least begin to recognize and acknowledge what is going on, to distinguish, tease it out, instead of it just being a general complaint about this environment that we have to work in.

Adkins: We find that when our students go through the section we have on working with the broader environment around teams and that the focus there is on having healthy product flow. Like what were the enablers and what are the detractors for healthy product flow. And we find that when we work with them, they are relieved because what used to be a big ball of wax that they thought like they had definitely no way to control, maybe no way to influence, now it gets teased out into things that they can see are enablers that they can enhance and detractors that they can do something about to potentially reduce. So they are not victims any more. There is a lot of victimhood on teams that are working fairly well, but then get stopped by a lot of organizational impediments and so this changes victimhood into actual action and also has them recognize things that are not going to change. Then the conversation becomes “How do we live with this?”


6. On a different topic I was just reading recently. Lyssa you started something at this conference a number of years ago which was an inspiration type statement. Now that has been going strong for how many years now?

Adkins: It just dawned on me. So, it was five years ago at Agile 2010 that I sent the first inspiration email and my idea was to just reach Agile Coaches or people who were making Agile teams great, reach them anywhere they were and give them a little jolt or a little kudo or a little kick in the tail every week. So every Tuesday morning for five years now, it has come out like clockwork and it is something lovely because I created, my husband does the technical creation piece of it and so it is something nice in our marriage too. So now it’s been five years, we had the desire – I have had this desire for a long time – to take some of the best of those inspirational emails and put them into something physical, in people’s hands because sometimes there is the need to just go to your desk and just take a card: “Oh, my gosh! This is an awful day! I am just going to take a card and get something, get a little inspiration or get something that makes me recognize what is going well” So we are now taking the 60 best inspirations and making these beautiful tarot sized cards and Deb Hartmann Preuss who is an Agile coach in the industry and my husband John Adkins are the ones doing this project and the cards are just exquisite. So people can find out about it by going to and it is called the “Inspire Me” deck.

Craig: As a coach, I can attain, that sometimes you just need that pick up to get going. It is such a lonely task sometimes and so it is great to have that.

Adkins: Sometimes. And it is hard. The Agile coaching job is hard.

Craig: Well, it has been great catching up with all you guys and you have such a wide variety and now covering these three personas.

Adkins: Yes. The enterprise Agile coaching persona, too.


7. If people want to know more about your classes and more about all of the awesome things that you do, where can they find out more information?

Adkins: Yes. The enterprise Agile coaching persona, too.

Craig: If people want to know more about your classes and more about all of the awesome things that you do, where can they find out more information?


Craig: Excellent. And they can find you all twittering away as well. So, where do they find you all on Twitter if they want to know more about you personally?

Hamman: Dochamman

Adkins: I am lysaaadkins with the funky spelling.

Spayd: mspayd

Adkins: I just realized we all have names that are difficult.

Craig: Well, thanks very much. It has been great catching up with you.

Adkins: Wonderful.

Dec 10, 2015