It's all about demand

Nov 05, 2012  ·  Mike Lowery

When you are coaching / mentoring there are times when you just get stuck, no matter what you try the message does not get through. You speak to your peers and you come up blank there too.

This happened to me when I was coaching a development team manager, they had sort of adopted some Agile practices but I could never get the rest of the team to go to the next level as their manager was very strong and very loud. While in principle he could see what I was suggesting was beneficial, there was always some reason why he never had the time to implement my ideas. It was extremely frustrating and after six weeks of trying every trick in my book I started to doubt my methods and felt like giving up.

I was reading one of the excellent Poppendieck books (I forget which one now) when an idea popped in to my head. Rather that trying to change the supply, try and change the demand.

What do I mean by this, well the changes for the manager and his team were sponsored by his direct manager (and his peers), each week they got together to prioritise the next items of work. Much like the teams adoption of Agile as a prioritisation meeting it was a bit "something like and sort of", nothing was clear and nothing was moving. It was not a case of Agile is just for the team and not for the managers, one of them was an extremely competent product owner on a project, they had just grown to accept this as the norm for their business as usual changes.

So rather than coaching and training the source I spent a few days with the demand side before their next meeting. I helped them see what they were not getting and what Agile practices the team could do to give them what they really wanted. We then structured their next team meeting as a mini ambush for the dev manager, when he came out of the meeting he looked a bit battered. No one had ever asked him why his team members where working on seven items at once, how long items had been in a queue or to explain impediments before, they had been passive excepting what they were given.

He came over to my desk and immediately asked for my help, he was out of his comfort zone did not have the skills to meet this new demand, so needed what I had to get him back in the game again. It felt like coaching a different person again, the changes that had been problems before suddenly became easy, and the team found they had a voice too. The next meeting while not perfect let the managers make some real choices especially items that had been in a queue for 78 days!

I have used this approach a number of times since then, and each time it has had the desired effect.

However this is a method that you need to approach with care, it is very important to judge how the demand side of the equation will react to your stimulus. If they are the type of people who can see this approach as a constructive method to improve the skills of the teams they are sponsoring then it should work very well. If however they would use this knowledge as a way of control or include it in some sort of performance management review then my advice would be to stay clear.

Demand however does not always have to come from above, this method works well for peer groups too.

Categories: Agile Coaching.

Tags: Agile, Agile coaching.