Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Interviews Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd on Different Coaching Approaches and Coaching the Enterprise

Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd on Different Coaching Approaches and Coaching the Enterprise


1. Hi, everyone, my name is Todd Charron, I am an Agile editor here at InfoQ and today I am joined by Michael Spayd and Lyssa Adkins. Hi, how’s it going? Hi, everyone, my name is Todd Charron, I am an Agile editor here at InfoQ and today I am joined by Michael Spayd and Lyssa Adkins. Hi, how’s it going?

Lyssa: Hey, great.

Michael: Good, thanks for having us.

Todd: Before we get started, tell us a little bit yourselves. We’ll start with you, Michael.

Michael: I’ve been doing Agile work for 12 years now, tended to be in large scale enterprise kind of projects right from the beginning, bottom up, not top down, the first one I did, I always concentrated on the organizational issues that come up in transformations, because that’s my training and seven years ago I got training as a professional coach, then got trained later as a systems coach, which is different, it’s like a specialty within professional coaching and became a certified professional facilitator, so I’ve really concentrated on people and group oriented skills and that’s what I love. And I love this space, I love the opportunity too, because there is so much possibility in this space for transformations of all kinds.

Todd: Lyssa?

Lyssa: I fell into the Agile world by mistake.

Michael: Didn’t we all.

Lyssa: Totally. It was like Alice in wonderland, this seems like a different kind of landscape, because I was a project manager 15 years prior to encountering Agile. And although within the first 30 days I loved what Agile could do and I saw how completely creative and resourceful people were, it was a bit of an identity crisis, actually it was a gigantic identity crisis. And instead of keeping that identity crisis inside, I wrote about it and I started doing conference presentations about this journey from a command and control project manager to an Agile coach, to someone who is really helping the teams expand their capacity and get better at navigating all kinds of change. And then I got asked to write a book, which became the Coaching Agile Teams book. Since then I have loved having a front row seat in helping develop Agile coaches at all different levels. Besides the training classes that Michael and I do through our company, Agile Coaching Institute, we coach coaches and Agile champions, managers and VPs that are struggling with “now that Agile is in my organization, what does this mean for me?” So, that professional coaching background, which I also went off and got because of his recommendation, that really helped. So, I love what we can bring into the community from these different disciplines and that’s really what we do, we go out find the disciplines that are needed to help Agile be healthy.

Michael: That’s our job, we have connections in external disciplines that are very relevant and we bridge that gap between those two in a lot of ways.


2. Maybe tell us a little bit about what brings you to Agile 2013 and what sort of things have you noticed here since you’ve been here?

Lyssa: Great question. What brings us here is that we are speaking, that’s an easy thing, we love to share our ideas, and what we’ve seen with Agile coaches and have them be heard by a wider audience. Anything else on that?

Michael: I’d say that what brings us here is this is where our tribe meets, you have to go where your tribe is.

Lyssa: It feels so good to be here.

Michael: I realized this year, the conference is an excuse to meet with the tribe, I don’t have time to go to many sessions a lot of times, I feel the loss of that, but I also want to be with people.

Lyssa: Your second question was what are we noticing.


3. What you’re noticing, we talked a little bit before this, what are some of the differences you’ve seen?

Lyssa: I am really getting in touch with it, because I was sitting in open jam today doing exactly this, closing my eyes and just listening to the hum around me and also paying attention to what is being talked about in the sessions and we have less of it this year than we’ve had in the past, but there is still a lot of cross talking.

Michael: What do you mean?

Lyssa: Where people are in a conversation and they are not actually hearing one another or they are not actually seeing they both have part of the truth. And as we look around the conference we see that this year, like every other year, we are really good in this community at things we can measure and touch and see and write down on a piece of paper. And the more work that we’ve been doing and the work that’s coming out of Michael’s book, which he’s writing right now called Coaching the Agile Enterprise, that’s like half of the equation. The other half of the equation is that stuff you can’t see, but that puts life into Agile, the people equation, the thing that helps people have more capacity and more creativity and the thing that brings that diagram that’s on a piece of paper to life and makes Agile be a competitive advantage, not just a process we are doing. That’s what I was sensing, I don’t know about you.

Michael: Another thing we were talking about before is the shift in the community, particularly in the coaching community and what they are talking about. So Lyssa’s book really introduced the idea of professional coaching and then we kind of cut off some of that into the Agile coach competency framework that breaks out teaching and mentoring on one side, having expertise and telling people about it basically in different kind of ways, and then facilitating and coaching on the other side, professional coaching, that all those things are useful. When we started out there was no talk about professional coaching, nobody knew what that meant, and starting with Lyssa’s book and then through our classes we think we really moved that conversation. For instance, yesterday in this session we had on how to hire an Agile coach we found that we ask people a bunch of questions and one question we ask was how many people have professional coach training, and a lot of people, not like the majority at all, but a significant amount of people.

Lyssa: We were surprised.

Michael: Raised their hands. And people are talking about listening, talking about powerful questions, that’s not a weird term anymore, a lot of people have heard those terms.

Lyssa: And we are also seeing other people bringing their philosophy of things like active listening or other models of questions, how to do questions, from other coaching schools, which is great, it has really become part of a community now.

Todd: One of the things you mentioned was we’re really good at putting things on paper and you also mentioned the people side of things, one thing I saw you do at Agile coaching in Canada a while earlier was actually putting to paper a description.

Lyssa: Yes, we do it here to.

Todd: Which is really good, because if you are really good at it, it’s a good way to communicate it, was these different areas of focus for coaches that you guys have observed, maybe tell us a little bit about that.

Michael: In addition to the teaching, mentoring, facilitating, coaching skills or competencies, there are also what we’ve discovered three different areas where Agile coaches can generally specialize.

Lyssa Generally specialize, that was good. We have generally specialized.

Michael: Generally speaking, it’s specializing. So one of them is technical, someone was saying Ron Jeffries was the first XP coach, it’s because he was a technical specialist, he wanted to help people figure out how to do things, but he didn’t want to tell them exactly what to do. And he is not an organizational systems kind of person, or whatever, he is a technical master.

Lyssa: And we need coaches that are that. We need coaches that are focusing on technical mastery. Just going to say what the other two are and then you are going to fill them in. The other two are business mastery and transformation mastery. And mastery doesn’t mean you’ve arrived, it means you’re on a path to delve further and further in that area and become really good at it, because each three of those are huge disciplines, you couldn’t be on a path of mastery of all three in one lifetime. And we still tell Agile coaches all the time, know enough about them to have a good conversation and know when you need to call in someone, a peer of yours, who actually is good in this other thing that your client or organization needs at this particular time. So, business and transformation, the other two.

Michael: You want to say one?

Lyssa: I’ll do business. So, business mastery, in a nutshell, that’s about everything you need to learn to help the organization use Agile as a competitive advantage and not just as a process. So, we put things like Lean startup in there, Luke Hohmann's book, Innovation Games and all the fun doing those games, Don Reinertsen. So that’s what an Agile coach would study if they were really good there and so, they would be able to coach and mentor the product management group and help with things like what’s Agile pricing look like, how are new customer touch methods working and all kinds of things that help really bring Agile alive for that group, those business people that are actually in the driver seat of Agile methods. So, that’s business mastery, and we do see the Agile coaches focusing here now.

Michael: Jeff Patton is another name here. And the other one, transformation, really has nothing to do with Agile, it’s not from Agile, it’s not sourced in that in any sense, I would say, but we all know that change issues come up when people move in this direction, both on an level, on a team level and on an organizational systems level. And transformation mastery is rooted for us in, feels like organizational development and leadership development, change management, culture.

Lyssa: Those are all things to study.

Michael: Whole set of disciplines to study and that’s a lot of what we bring into Agile world is some of those thinking and some of those practitioners, because that’s what we specialize in.

Lyssa: Yes, our specialty, we are certainly neither one of us, you don’t hire us for technical mastery stuff, we know enough, we know how XP practices work, we know enough why they are important and why you need to implement them, but we are not going to be able to help when it comes down to setting up continuous integration servers and stuff like that.

Michael: Yes, don’t ask me to explain Cucumber to you.

Lyssa: Yes, that’s just funny language.

Michael: You’ll relish.

Lyssa: It’s so funny, we were listening to…………………. coffee talk about “the Gherkin does the bla bla bla”, that’s funny, thought about that. I don’t know, it thing it’s great. So, our specialty totally is transformation. And professional coaching is really closely related to that, professional coaching is all about empowering people on their own journey to embrace and reach their potential, whatever they think that is. And that’s also on systems level, too, because there is, Michael mentioned it, a branch of professional coaching specialty really that’s how to work with a whole team, department or whole organization as an entity, how to coach that thing. And he and I are certified in that kind of coaching and it’s really useful stuff.


4. What would you say you’ve observed or perhaps any recommendations on how do people look at all three, either do they generalize a little bit in each one or specialize in one, specialize in two, how does it appear from what you’ve seen in coaches?

Michael: I see people pretty firmly rooted in one, many in technical and some that aren’t rooted in technical are a little bit unclear, I think, they dabble a little bit more, from my point of view it would be useful for them to polish, sharpen their sword in one of those areas.

Lyssa: I think that’s really useful, I think it’s really just an evolutionary thing, it was just a no brainer that most of the signers of the Agile manifesto would be in that technical mastery wedge of the framework, because that’s where they came from, that makes total sense, and of course Agile itself doesn’t stay in that technical box very well, it immediately moves out of there, it wants to push on the business, it wants to really challenge business people to be part of the solution instead of separate from it. So, of course, the next area we saw evolving with Agile coaches was business mastery, and I think we are now starting to see more Agile coaches evolve and come forward in transformation mastery, but far fewer, that’s really the emerging field and when we teach this in our classes, people have a lot of aha’s and kind of mental breakdowns about it actually when they are like “oh, my gosh, this is what I’ve been missing, I’ve been trying to make this Agile transformation happen”, but actually don’t know anything about the disciplines and decades and decades of thought that have already gone into this transformation mastery area, we don’t have to invent it, we just have to apply it.

Michael: There’s been a lot of dabbling, I would say, in transformation mastery, almost since the beginning, people have read Virginia Satir and different change models, John Carter, and they try to apply them and, bless them for doing that, there is a lot more depth that’s possible there, sometimes using it superficially is not all that helpful, and we think just like you get training in technical skills, you don’t come by that naturally or completely by self-study, you have some depth there, we think the same thing with transformation arts, so to speak.

Lyssa: We certainly see a lot of interest in it, most Agile coaches in our class go “oh, my gosh, this is what I need for the situations I am in”.

Michael: Or “this is what we need for the organization”, I couldn’t do it.

Todd: You also had another way of looking at it, growth model, phases for someone would go through, maybe talk a little bit about that.

Lyssa: We’ve been working for the last two years or so on working committees to create a learning path for Agile coaches because so far it’s been totally random, anyone can call themselves a coach, when someone’s hiring a coach they have no clue what they are getting, nor do they really know what to ask for, and Agile coaches themselves, a lot of them they tell us they feel like frauds because they don’t know how to develop themselves, but yet they know the situations they are in, it’s kind of unmatched for them and they still plug away and they strive but they know they need other stuff. So, as part of developing this learning path we all looked at each other at some point and said “you know what, this kind of mirrors what we see in the industry”, that there are Agile team facilitators who think about that as a beginning Scrum master, someone who is going to run one or a couple of teams, they are not going to be great at starting up teams necessarily, not going to be great at really big impediments, that kind of stuff, but we need that, we need people on the ground with teams to be there when they are stuck, they need to learn how to colaterate, be there in the moments when they don’t get stories and help make the most of that teachable moment, so that’s Agile team facilitator.

The next level is Agile coach and beyond that, enterprise Agile coach. So Agile coach level, you want me to talk about this and you talk about the enterprise? So, Agile coach level, this is someone who probably is helping to develop a multiple of those Scrum masters and product owners on the various teams, so think about this as a program level almost. And this is the level at which their skills set is grown and their leaderfulness has grown to the point where managers, middle managers, vice-presidents will listen to them and so they start influencing things, working on a bigger set of impediments, that kind of stuff and really growing the skill set of the people who are in the teams doing the work. And then, honestly, for a lot of people, that’s perfect and you can just stop right there, you really can, because if we had more skilled and confident Agile team facilitators and Agile coaches, Agile would be a lot more healthy in most organizations.

Michael: Those people, like developers for instance, could get better and better at their craft, you could become a master team coach and there is whole kind of room to get better team program level coach. And then some people are drawn to, and we think you need to do the other jobs first or have the skill sets, some people are drawn to working at an enterprise level and then you get a whole lot more complexity than you would expect, you need to know about leadership and how leaders develop and how executives think and you need to know about how organizations change or don’t change and how culture limits the ability to change or doesn’t jive with Agile or does, you know about systems thinking, about how things scale, about organizations structure creates a container-like structure, the more structural side of culture that limits or supports what you are trying to do. So, there is a lot more complexity, a lot more disciplines to have a sense of at least, of some level of understanding.

Lyssa: And someone who is at that level, they have a really well developed tool set in teaching and mentoring and professional coaching and facilitating. And because they have that, they can be of use to an individual team member all the way up to the CEO, they can really go toe to toe with the C-suit, not in an adversarial way, but in more of a coaching, helping profession kind of way, but also in a way that is very straightforward, in your face. Because professional coaching is not soft at all, professional coaching would say to a CEO “ok, here’s what’s happening, you say you want this, I’ve seen this, I’ve seen this, I’ve seen this”, because we have this situation with leaders where they say they want Agile and the do against-Agile things, that’s just a leader in transition.

Michael: What do you really want?

Lyssa: You ask them “what do you really want?”

Michael: You’re willing to give what you want to give for this to happen, or not, not I am trying to convince you, you need to, but I am confronting you with your own lack of decisiveness or your own ambivalence.

Lyssa: So, you see, as you go up through those levels of becoming a more and more skilled Agile coach, you also develop your leaderfulness, it has to come part and parcel with it, otherwise you can’t move into those greater levels of complexity and deal with them successfully.


5. So, if anyone wants to learn more about either of these models, where would they find that information?

Lyssa: So, the one about teaching, mentoring, professional coaching facilitating, if they go to, on the right hand side- Resources, there is a button, and it’s really cool because it’s got those eight pieces and then like a starter list of resources in each of the eight, so they can go look and say “I want to learn more about this one”, so there is the five books or videos or whatever that would be useful.

Michael: We wrote a white paper that lays out the framework, like Lyssa says, the resources are organized by that, Agile coach competency framework, that’s the name of it.

Lyssa: And as far as the levels of Agile coaching, the place where that primarily lives on is, and that stands for international Consortium for Agile and that’s the group that pull together the working group that we been on to create that learning path, which is Creative Commons, everyone can use it.

Michael: And IC Agile has a lot of tracks testing and development and business analysis, so the one that we are talking about is the facilitation and coaching track, Agile facilitation and coaching track.


6. Excelent. The next thing I want to know is what’s exciting for you these days, what’ really got your attention?

Michael: For me, it’s definitely introducing a framework that I am writing about in my book, Coaching the Agile Enterprise, it’s sort of like the Agile coaching competency framework, what that does to coaches to lay out the map for what possibilities there are for them or approaches or whatever. This framework, I call it systemic Agile, is based on the work of a guy name Ken Wilber and it’s all quadrants, all levels, which I am not going to try to explain here but.

Lyssa: Way more teaching in there.

Michael: But it’s a big map of an enterprise or of anything, but I have applied it to the enterprise, so it has the same quality as the Agile coaching competency framework, but it’s appropriate for an enterprise, so it includes everything from leadership development and individual emotional intelligence or whatever, to scaling patterns like Safe or Lean startup, everything has a place in it and a relationship that makes some kind of sense and helps give some kind of balance, you can just take one approach, you have to take an all subjective, feeling oriented, people oriented approach and an objective, scientific kind of approach, it’s not a matter of choosing between those two, it’s a matter of if you are really going to be effective, you have to look at all those perspectives. How about for you?

Lyssa: Well, that’s a pretty good one, I’m kind of jazzed about that one, too. Because I think it’s really we were just talking about this earlier today introducing that to the community is going to be really important, I think it’s going to advance the conversation at this and other conferences, because as I’ve said earlier people are missing each other in a lot of conversations they are having and as Michael said it’s not an either/ or thing. This model has four perspectives in it, those four perspectives are happening all the time, just depends which one you are looking through and they are all four valuable. And the kind of maturity we want to see in enterprise Agile coaches as we help people develop to that level, first of all they know which one is their bias, because I know which one is my bias, I definitely have one, the I quadrant, I am all about individual human development, and the reason I know that is my bias is because I say things like if leaders would just evolve, Agile would be fine. So, that’s how I know that’s my bias. So I’ll use myself as an example.

Michael: Some people would say, for instance, “if we just had a system to visualize the work flow, everything would be fine”. Well, yes and no.

Lyssa: Both are true, right? And then as enterprise Agile coach, we want ourselves and we want the people we work with to be conscious about taking all four perspectives, because an enterprise is too complex to just say this is the one way, all of it it’s happening at once.

Michael: So, this is part of my book and the book that I am writing is taking a long time, shut up, Lyssa.

Lyssa: Yes, a long time.

Michael: The decision we just made today actually was for me to release part of it as a white paper that’s maybe 10% of it or something, but that’s the foundation of making these distinctions, because we can use those distinctions, it’s going to form the basis of our future curriculum in training beyond even the Agile coaching competency framework.

Lyssa: And I just think it’s going to make the conversations between agiles a lot more healthy and productive and a lot less pissing contest.

Todd: Alright. Well, thank you very much.

Lyssa: You’re welcome, it’s been a pleasure.

Michael: Yes, thank you, Todd.

Feb 19, 2014

Hello stranger!

You need to Register an InfoQ account or or login to post comments. But there's so much more behind being registered.

Get the most out of the InfoQ experience.

Allowed html: a,b,br,blockquote,i,li,pre,u,ul,p

Community comments

Allowed html: a,b,br,blockquote,i,li,pre,u,ul,p

Allowed html: a,b,br,blockquote,i,li,pre,u,ul,p