Few years ago I became a Scrum Master and now I am an Agile Coach.
With now few years in the field, I am writing this article to share on my experience and hopefully provide some useful insights.
You are now a Scrum Master or a newly appointed Agile Coach and you have just started this position!
First, savour the taste of joining a huge and wonderful community of like-minded people.
There are plenty of online resources and diverse communities. I am personally a member of the agilealliance.org. They recently reduced their membership fee for individuals and you don’t have to sign up, they also have a lot of free access resources, I am a fan of their podcast.
Obviously you know already a lot and you are excited about this new start!
You probably had meetings during the recruitment process where the company explained some pain points and challenges the organisation and the team have.
You might even have encountered those challenges in the past and you are more than eager to start proposing improvements, because you know how this works!
Not so fast! Be a bit more patient.
Hold on your horses
Before revolutionising the organisation and showing the team what you are capable of, are you sure you know what are the expectations on your role?
Sure you have the job description, but, is that enough?
There might be information that you are simply missing:
- If it is not already done, set up 1 on 1 with your manager and gather her expectations concerning your role. What does success look like?
- About your peers part of the organisation for longer, what are their current challenges and what do they expect with your arrival? How will you primarily exchange and on which frequency?
- About the team you will be mainly working with, how are the members? What experience do they have? How do they work together?
Each organisation share similarities but each organisation is a new world in itself.
As humans, we tend to do assumptions from the start and we have to be conscious about them.
Remember, “You know nothing Jon Snow” 😉
When you start, the best is to hold on onto any actions you wanted to do and get to know your environment better.
Observe and listen!
A good practice I am always doing, or trying to, when I start in a new environment is setting up 1 on 1 with the people who recruited me, my manager, the team, the product owner, the stakeholders, etc
First, the people I will work for and more closely to, then the wider audience, the better. I will tell you why a bit further down.
It takes time to talk with everyone but I found it necessary in order to know where I am and how things work.
During those 1 on 1, I try to use some powerful questions such as:
- “What are your expectations on my role?”
- “What are the real challenge in your current roles?”
- “Where could my role help you?”
- “What keeps you up at night?”
- “What else?”
In a single 1 on 1 I, generally, don’t use all of those questions together. It would sound maybe a bit robotic or worse, I might overwhelm the person in front of me which is not the goal.
My goal is to get as much information as possible on the organisation; the ways of working and where are the real challenges.
Sure, people told me some pain points, but are those the real challenges?
Two important things I do during those 1 on 1:
- I practice active listening without thinking about the next questions I will ask. What are the person really telling me?
- I take notes so I will remember what happened, I can even share my notes with the person as a first step toward building trust and transparency which is crucial in this role.
When I have 1 on 1 with team members I might have some additional questions such as:
- How do they see the team working?
- What do they think the company is best supporting them for?
- What opinions do they have on their leaders?
- What are their expectations on the agile coach?
Team ceremonies and meetings
At first, I attend the maximum of team ceremonies and meetings I can. I don’t see myself as a participant, not yet, I am collecting data, gathering facts, so I observe.
Here some questions I am always trying to answer after my two first weeks inside an organisation.
- What are the team ceremonies?
- What are the dynamics during the ceremonies?
- Who talks a lot? Who never talks?
- What are the recurrent complaints about?
- What are the wins?
- Where are the strengths and the weaknesses?
- How frequently the team is in interaction with their stakeholders?
- Who is driving the ceremonies?
Doing all the 1 on 1, gathering all the facts, collecting all the data and even triaging them takes time. To some people, I might seem idle, not doing enough things especially if they don’t know I am doing this.
That’s where the 1 on 1 are crucial when you start.
I talked about getting 1 on 1 with your manager and the maximum of people I can when I start in order to gather the maximum of information, right?
Those 1 on 1 have also another goal which is to build trust and transparency.
I alway say what my intentions are: I will talk to the maximum of people in first phase and I will observe the maximum of meetings and team ceremonies I can to understand the organisation and the challenges.
I am especially careful to align with my manager on this.
Your manager, is your ally in the organisation, you need to know what her expectations are about your role and she needs to know how you work and what your intentions are during your first weeks. It will allow her to know what you are doing and it will assured you to have the green light and not being bothered.
When I have enough notes and matter compiled, I show my observations to my manager and only at that moment I start explaining some improvements ideas to get early feedback on what is feasible or not.
You can start setting goals with your manager now that you identified axes of improvements. If you had goals set up since the start, maybe it is a good idea to revisit them and see if they are aligned with your suggestions.
Don’t hesitate to share your findings with the Product Owner, the team and people around you. They might not be ready for all of them, but select a few you know they are receptive to.
Now time to start testing your suggestions
When I say you can start testing your suggestions, I am not saying to go all in. You are probably teaching the team during retrospectives to go Kaizen. Do small improvements at regular interval.
In the case of your suggestions, apply the same philosophy. No need to go big bang.
Big bangs are costly. It takes time, causes resistance to change, can break the team good dynamic, and can make you be seen as too disruptive for the team.
Going through continuous small improvements is when the true lasting changes come. It takes a lot of patience, and if you are like me, you might need to still learn to be more patient 😉
But when you sum up the small changes, the value you get is actually incredible.
Continuous feedback and conclusion
Passing the first couple of weeks, sometimes we are just caught up with work. Things accelerate, there are important milestones for the company and we might need to help different type of teams.
Yet, don’t neglect the value of continuous feedback.
A great idea is to keep a reasonable amount of 1 on 1 with the persons you started to talk with first.
As Ken Blanchard said “Feedback is the breakfast of champions”
I hope this article will be useful to some of you or will serve as a reminder for the already acquainted ones.
Please, let me know in the comments or on LinkedIn, what you do when you start a new position in a new company.