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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Lachlan Heasman and Bernd Schiffer on Agile Coaching

Lachlan Heasman and Bernd Schiffer on Agile Coaching


1. Hi my name is Craig Smith I’m an Agile editor at InfoQ, we’re here at Agile Australia 2013, here in Sydney in Australia and with me I have two of Australia’s most eminent Agile coaches. How’s that for a word for you boys?

Heasman: Was that you two people?

Schiffer: No, I dunno, I think it was you!

Craig: Anyway I have over here trouble maker on the left Lachlan Heasman, how you are doing Lachlan?

Heasman: I’m doing well, good to see you, mate!

Craig: And Bernd Schiffer on the right, how you are doing Bernd?

Schiffer: Good, thanks, how are you?


2. We have Sydney and Melbourne represented here from a coaching perspective, so at the Agile Conference, how areyou guys finding it, what are you hearing in the corridors, what are the big topics that are hitting the Agile community right now?

Schiffer: I’ve only attended the keynotes today which I find pretty good, was a good mix like Mary Poppendieck at first and she introduced lots of old concepts but still very good concepts so it was a good catch-up for the beginners, I think we have a few beginners here?

Heasman: I would expect so, yes.

Schiffer: Yes, so, and then the contrast like with Dave Snowden, he was pretty fast and all his things he put out there and I’ve wrote something down and I hadn’t time to listen to the next few things, so it was very intense let’s put it that way.


3. On the complexity model you had to put his talk, what in the complexity… the complex box?

Heasman: Perhaps, disordered?

Schiffer: Yes, that was more of the chaotic phase! So that was a good start for me.

Craig: I assume there is lots of talking in the corridors and things for you during the day just catching up with people?

Schiffer: Lots of networking.

Craig: What about you Lachlan?

Heasman: I think there’s a ripple effect from the cynefin ideas, I think people are starting to think about that a bit more, I think its having a big impact, certainly in some domains within Telstra, one of our big telecoms, which I think it’s a good thing, I think people approaching things from a complexity perspective, given a different way of dealing with what they’ve got on hand and they have for years, and I’ve heard a bit of talk around that which is good, maybe it’ll fire people off to think about things in different ways and that is always an advantage, when I’m looking to start thinking about stuff we’ve got an opportunity for change which means we can start introducing other new concepts and people might be more willing to adapt or able to adapt it.


4. Bernd, you are originally from Germany, been in Australia about… six months, so as an Agile coach do you notice any strong difference between Agile adoption and process, between Europe and Australia?

Schiffer: The answer is no, it totally depends on the clients, so I have exactly the same range of clients here in Australia that I had in Germany and the one thing is I was pretty amazed by the Agile community here, that was pretty amazing, we have a strong Agile community in Germany too, but a half year before I came to Australia, I already got hooked up with the Agile community here in Sydney and Melbourne and they were very helpful. I wanted to know stuff, like I didn’t know what an Iteration Manager is, because we don’t have that in Germany and stuff like that, and that was so helpful and thanks for that Agile community so that was great, and yes that’s the other difference, so the other big difference, the terminology is different. So you have Iteration Manager, the Agile BA is pretty huge, you have something like Delivery Manager, and all those terms I didn’t know them from the European market or at least from the German market, so I had to learn so what exactly is an IM, so when you look on the search engine, when I searched for Scrum Master only a few items showed up, and I was like: “Huh, OK, the Agile market is not very mature here I think”, and then someone said: “No, no, you have to look for Iteration Manager” and I looked it up and I got 3,000 entries and I was like: “Wow, OK, that’s different”.

Heasman: I think that is similar to North America from colleagues I have over there who say that Scrum is really big in Europe, very big in North America, in Australia it’s very much a different flavour of Agile implementation for process.


5. [...] Where did you kind of start and where has your journey taken you?

Craig's full question: I think Australia has borrowed a lot of bits from North America, more so than Europe and that even goes to show I think with the amount of Scrum adoption that we have here, the Scrum adoption is actually quite low really per capita, particularly compared I think to Europe. Lachlan, what is your Agile journey, what kind of started you down the path? We heard Mary, for example, talk about the 10,000 hours of practice this morning, and about what takes to be an expert and I think Agile coaches tend to evolve over time by learning Agile, so where did you kind of start and where has your journey taken you?

Heasman: I started by delivering software really badly and I was working with a customer and we would meet regularly and cry about how crap a job we were doing and we decided that we should probably do something a little bit more intelligent and we ended up structuring these six week periods which were time boxed where we’d guarantee a release, we’d cutoff features rather than try to pack everything into six weeks, but make sure we worked on the client environment before is allowed to go live, like really clearly stupidly obvious things to us nowadays, and it seemed to work, we just created this almost like a release train concept and it just worked and worked and worked.

And I was looking at Slashdot one day and there was a review of the Scrum for Project Managers, the Microsoft Press book, by Ken Schwaber, and I went “oh, that’s interesting”. Bought the book, read through it and went: ”Oh wow, someone has done this before and they made it better”. So then we went kind of hardcore into the land of Scrum, which is probably where my general Agile bias is to how you should structure organizations and do delivery. And from there I tried Scrum in several places, quit several places where we wasn’t allowed to do Scrum or we were going to use micromanagement, was one of my directions, and I don’t have the time in my life to micromanage people, I’m way too lazy. And I ended up finally stumbling into ThoughtWorks as a Project Manager and did some delivery and I ended up doing some coaching in there which is more of a serendipitous pathway rather than desired pathway. And then once I became a coach I thought I probably should find out what I’m doing, so I starting coaching at the University of Sydney in the coaching psychology unit and that is probably what brought me to who I am today, which is kind of frustrating perspective, because I see Agile coaching and coaching as reasonably different domains and I’m trying to work out how I can blend those two things in effective practice.

Schiffer: Is it person coaching or life coaching?

Heasman: That is part of it, it’s effectively the psychology of coaching, so the idea is that coaching is a sub-domain of psychology as clinical psychology is, as is health psychology, and those kind of things, so coaching as a psychology is developed into its own part of psychology. It’s interesting stuff.

Schiffer: You are one of the few Agile coaches I met, who have actually studied coaching so that’s very unusual.

Heasman: And that’s why I get paid the moderate bucks!


6. Bernd, what is your journey, how did you kind of get here?

Schiffer: When I was seventeen I joined the Army and the Navy in Germany and I’ve been there for 6 years, so I learned command and control from the very basics, and I know that this is not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. After that I studied Computer Science, within Computer Science in my second semester I learned XP. I heard about XP, I started as a developer, I start doing TDD, refactoring simple design and all that stuff, and it was great, I had very, very good and reliable results. And then my study was project based, so I started my first project, I introduced XP in that project and I failed with that, so it wasn’t adopted by everyone in that project, so at that time I was more the convincing kind of person, like pushing the approach which never works.

I learned that there and in 2005 I joined a consulting company in Germany, IT Agile, which is one of biggest Agile companies in Germany. First I worked as a software engineer and later I became an Agile Coach, and the reason for that is I still like programming, I really liked it then, but for me it became more and more interesting to deal with people, so they are fascinating, it’s more fascinating than code, and that is why I decided four years ago not to code anymore but just to focus on coaching.

Heasman: So did they teach you XP at University, was that part of their curriculum?

Schiffer: No, actually we were the first to introduce XP in the University, so we talked to our professors and introduced XP to them. In my last semester there was a class about XP, actually it was about Agile and one core unit was XP, so that was pretty remarkable.

Heasman: I’m not sure if that is happening much in Australia really or if there is any Agile, have you come across that?

Craig: The universities are slowly getting better, if you are lucky they might have one lecture on it certainly. I’ve done some tutoring at QUT where there is a subject where they actually have to go through the life cycle of a project, and they do it, but I think a lot of it, and it comes up at a lot of universities, because a lot of the professors haven’t really gotten out in the real world and I don’t think it’s really caught up with them, and when they do they talk about the basics, more so than other things.

Heasman: Which is interesting, when we look at the growth in this conference from 2009 I think it started and it had two streams running at the same time and now we’ve got four running simultaneously including a full technical track, so the mainstreams now out there at the conference doing that and universities are probably going to need to start to pick that up, it’s the future of Agile, it’s not just what’s happening in enterprise and organizations, it’s happening through education as well, so its going to have to be picked up.

Oct 12, 2013