Legacy is planting seeds in a garden you will never see grow. – Hamilton, The Musical
For those of us who are practicing Agile coaches, you know the truth in this quote. We are often gifted with a short window of time to be a catalyst for change and create enough of a spark to cause a meaningful transformation to the DNA of an organization. No pressure!
With so much riding on our ability to catalyze transformation, how do we know if we’re really having an impact? How do we assess if we’re making enough of a difference to cause positive and lasting change? How do we know if the seeds being planted will flourish and grow long after we are gone?
A coach on a sports team will have a real-time scoreboard and a win and loss record, measuring the impact of an Agile coach is often subjective. A while back, I mentioned how measuring team agility is like measuring how in love you are and assessing a coach feels quite the same.
So we know this isn’t going to be easy but let’s give it a try. Here are a few ways I have been personally assessing my own impact (and a means to identify areas to develop and grow.)
“Proud Parent” moments (also known as “Mr. Myagi” moments). A couple weeks ago while coaching an Agile transformation team, I was standing in the back of the room observing an update on the progress the team was making in crafting their new framework with others in the company. As the conversation continued, the questions from the group became harder and harder. I was mentally preparing my answers for the time the team would ask for help…but it never happened.
They were rock-stars and their responses were better than I could have ever delivered. I glanced over to the other coach in the room and I’m sure we both had the same smile. Something similar to Mr. Myagi when Daniel won the tournament in the movie “The Karate Kid.” I live for these moments!
These “moments” should be happening at least once a week. Keep a log of how often they occur for you. As an example, here is a recent page from my journal when I captured the experience described above.
In my opinion, the impact of an Agile coach should FIRST be measured by the growth in confidence of the people in the community they are working with and how soon they are able to stand on their own.
Language change. Similarly, I will often create a mental count of the number of times words such as “flow,” “pull,” “co-creation,” “responsiveness,” “trust,” “speed,” “collaboration,” and “customer-focused” (or other words aligned to the values and principles of the framework being designed) are being used in everyday conversations. On the contrary, I would listen for the reduction of phrases like “we always do things this way” or “this is the [insert company name] way of doing things and it will never change.”
The level of optimism and excitement for the future should be increasing during any transformation and language will always reveal this. When language changes the culture changes. This is especially true for those in leadership positions.
Shortest possible cycle-time. How fast are new ideas getting from incubation and into the hands of customers or end-users? Many coaches and coaching organizations will attempt to use an Agile Capability or Maturity Matrix to gauge the success of an overall Agile transformation but I’m beginning to believe keeping track of how frequent customers or end-users are experiencing fresh working product is a strong enough measure to identify coaching opportunities. If an agile team has been sprinting without a deployment to customers/users in months, an agile coach should be very concerned.
Quality. While speed is important, it isn’t everything. Teaching and coaching principles of craftsmanship at all times should be a priority. For coaches working with a team for just a short period of time this will be tricky but monitoring the number of unhappy users because of defects or shoddy work would be the best measure here along with your speed measurements. Test automation coverage may also apply.
Ability to self-heal. I believe a measure of success for a coach is their ability to instill self-awareness, bravery, and the necessary skills to be in control of their own destiny. Are the teams you are working with able to identify unhealthy behaviors or activities and repair them without the input of a coach or leader? Are they able to identify and remove impediments without assistance? Are they able to have the crucial conversations to remove anything infecting their new way of working? Keep track of the times they are showing this new-found capability.
Formal meeting reduction. When a member of an Agile team states, “My day is full of meetings!” unrelated to the work of the team, something smells. I see this quite often with product owners but can be prevalent throughout an organization. As much as possible, an Agile coach should be guiding their teams to solve things in real-time with people present (both virtually and physically). Waiting for a meeting to resolve something or make a decision restricts flow (speed) and adds friction. I’m not saying this should be reduced to zero but we need to focus on creating space for co-creation to emerge and for people to experience life together.
Concept advancements. The next step beyond a “proud parent” moment is assessing when the organization (or team) is taking initial training, ideas or an approach and making it their own. Some call this “Shu-Ha-Ri” based on how martial arts is often taught.
How do we know when they are bending the rules or creating their own? This is a tough one to measure but they should be questioning everything and exploring ruthlessly. They are asking what is the simplest thing we could do, and what would be the hardest thing we could do while still aligning with the principles of agile and lean. I will often measure this by how much of my original concept sharing has been crossed off and replaced. :)
Coaching tree. The presence of an Agile coach must trigger the growth of people and you must be a springboard for them to achieve greater things on their own. As your portfolio of coaching engagements grow, it’s nice to take a moment every so often to observe those you have worked with years ago and see how they are brightly shining now.
This reminded me of the coaching tree for Bill Walsh, the former coach of the San Francisco 49ers. While he passed away in 2007, I’m hoping he looked at his coaching tree at some point and had more than a few “proud parent” moments thinking about the seeds he planted.
This also aligns nicely with Robert Greenleaf’s description of how to measure servant leadership. “The best test, and difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
I have been able to watch with pride how many of the people I have been blessed to worked with have developed and grown into amazing agilists, change agents and servant leaders. And yes, l’ve had many Mr. Miyagi smiles thinking about my time with them.
Feel free to share your own ways you are assessing coaching impact…please add your thoughts below.