Category Archives: Coaching

The Amazing Power of a Game – What I learned from the facilitating The Pheonix Project Simulation

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I recently had the opportunity to become certified to lead a simulation based on the best-selling IT book The Phoenix Project. When I went through the training, it was apparent that the developers of the simulation had created something very special. The Phoenix Project simulation is not a product as much as it is an experience. The realistic scenarios, challenges and pain points embedded in the game created a creative tension in a safe environment and allowed everyone (including me) to discover new insights into applying DevOps to improve flow throughout the value stream: from the business request through IT and to customers!

DevOps and Agile practices are built on the back of Lean principles that go back decades to before the Toyota Production System. As someone who attempted to apply Lean to IT long before DevOps came into existence, I have always said that DevOps is about creating an environment where it is safe to observe, experiment and learn based on outcomes. I was fortunate to meet with Gene Kim many times while he was writing The Phoenix Project. We always talked about lean thinking, lean systems and lean tools. Those discussion eventually morphed into The Three Ways – the core principles of DevOps!

Alignment with the business changes the feel of work

The simulation put people in a position where It was easy to see and feel the impact of not being aligned with business and not being coordinated with all the elements of it (AppDev, Engineering, IT Ops, Change Management, etc.). In each round the team was able to reflect and learn from the experience and experiment with new ways of working. What we all experienced was profound: the DevOps principles, systems and tools are effective only when the team directly experiences the frustration of a broken work system and works together to see, understand and act.

What was amazing to see was how quickly people took on the personas of the functional tole they had been assigned. The woman who took on the role of Retail Operations (you may remember Sarah in the Phoenix Project) became rather aggressive as she demanded results. The CISO (John in the book) constantly nagged people about SOX-404 issues. And of course, the CEO was a royal pain on everyone! Although we all knew this was a simulation game, everyone reported the stress and tension they felt as we embarked on round one with no real plan of how we were going to transformto a DevOps team.

You can’t improve what you can’t see

 What became instantly apparent among the chaos of trying to get the work done was that the team had no visibility of all the work nor priorities. True to life, there was more work that our people could handle so we needed a way to see the work, compare it to our capacity to do the work, identify trade offs and then work with the Business and other stakeholders to set priorities. Once the team was able to accomplish this (through some trial and error) we all could feel the alignment of purpose, see the smile on peoples’ faces as we created value and feel what collaboration between silos is really like.

 This discovery was just the tip of the iceberg. As a coach and facilitator, I was able to ask the team questions that positioned them to reflect on what had just happened and see within themselves additional changes that needed to take place to improve the quality, speed and volume of our deployments. Some of the other topics which were experienced and later expanded on include:

  • A recipe for coordination among silos
  • Making time for improvement, learning and technical debt
  • DevOps without Value Stream Mapping can be hazardous to your health

I’ll share some thoughts on these topics soon.

At the end of the day, DevOps is about creating an environment where it is safe to observe, experiment and learn based on outcomes. The Phoenix Project Simulation creates an environment to give everyone that experience. From there, they return to work and begin their journey.

 

 

 

7 Things Coaches Need to Get Over

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Over the years, I have noticed some common misperceptions about coaching effective problem solving skills and developing lean thinking. Here’s a few:

1) It’s not about being smart (and it’s not about you). Good coaching is not about your intelligence and ability to solve the issue the learner (e.g., person you are coaching) is attempting to address. The more we focus on our own skills and the problem to be solved, the less we focus on the learner’s thinking process and their development.

Good coaching is about centering on the other person’s pattern of thinking as they work to develop potential countermeasures. In fact, when you have no bias and don’t actively engage in solving the problem, it becomes easier to be an effective and helpful coach. The learner is the writer, producer, director and actor: make your coaching all about them.

2) Fake it until you make it is not a sound approach. To be a good coach you don’t have to an expert in the subject the learner is exploring. In cases where the topic is specialized or highly technical (for example, chemistry or IT) and you know little about the subject, be 100 percent transparent! Pretending to be someone you are not will only erode trust between you and the person you are coaching. The supply the subject matter expertise and provide the coaching.

3) It’s not about what you would do. Redirecting the conversation in an attempt to get the learner to think a certain way steals the learning experience from the other person and is disrespectful. As a coach, your role is to gently expand the learner’s problem solving skills by asking open-ended questions that do not lead the witness. Leading the witness is doing the thinking for the other person, putting ideas in their head, cross examining them, giving direct advice (as in “this is what I would do”), or otherwise taking over solving the problem. Your problem-solving expertise is irrelevant as it relates to your playing the role of problem solver. It is very relevant as it relates to your role of coach: the better you are at applying the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust(PDCA) cycle, the better you will become as a coach if you stay clear of engaging directly in solving the learner’s problem!

4) Your stories don’t always help. Telling stories that provide clues or suggestions based on your experience often influences the direction of thinking the learner is pursuing and detracts from the value you provide as a coach. The effect is similar to leading the witness but can steal even more time and focus away from the learner. Storytelling can seem like an appropriate element of coaching but often negatively impacts coaching by making the dialogue all about you (see #1 above).

5) It’s not about asking standard questions. With the popularity of Toyota Kata, many people equate the five coaching questions as everything there is to know about lean coaching. While the Kata questions can be very effective when used appropriately, they are not the end-all be-all to good coaching. Recitation of questions read from a card (or memorized) can detract for the authentic connection which needs to be fostered between coach and learner. A great coach is constantly scanning the learner’s thinking to see where they are in their understanding and application of PDCA. Don’t allow the Kata questions or any list of coaching questions distract you from the active listening and concentration required to accurately sense and respond to the learner’s current level of understanding.

6) Evaluating the learner is harmful. In coaching, judgment can limit our effectiveness. When we place labels of the learner’s thinking, we limit our view of the other person. A great coach sees the other person as having the ability to solve their current problem as well as become a better lean thinker than they are. In fact, that’s your job: to support the other’s development to be the very best they can be and sincerely desire that they exceed your skill set. We might call this practice “coaching with humility.”

7) Eat your own dog food. To effectively connect and coach another you must be authentic. To become a good coach, you need three things: a good coach to coach you, practice, and perseverance. If we don’t practice what we preach – PDCA, continuous improvement, lead with respect, reflection, go & see, life-long learning, etc. at work and in our personal life, then we are frauds. Positioning ourselves as coaches while espousing lofty ideas but failing to apply them to us personally will become obvious to those we are coaching. If we’re not leading by example, then we’re not consistently practicing and learning – we won’t be able to make a connection with the person we are trying to coach.

Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Are there other misconceptions that get in the way of effective coaching?