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Are you an Agile Expert?


“To learn how to be responsive; what does that mean? The ability to both tell people the answers to questions about agile AND the ability to ask a question that prompts introspection with the person you’re talking to.”

– Niall McShane (Author)

If yes, read this (please)

Nobody likes being told what to do. Bossy agile experts are annoying and usually create resistance instead of helping with the change to an agile way of working. Are you an agile expert; if yes then this article aims to give you a gift; the gift of responsiveness.

You can think of this as different pathways a conversation can take. The challenge for agile experts is they get stuck using only one of these pathways; telling people the solution

Think of this type of conversation as downloading a new app onto an existing operating system. Your client does not have to reassess who they are or their values but just adopt a new process. 70–80% of agile coaching is this type of conversation; the coach playing the agile expert and downloading answers to people who require solutions.

An alternate pathway

There is another pathway a conversation can go down. Let’s call this the down pathway. If you are an agile expert then you probably are used to getting recognition and a sense of achievement from giving answers; awesome and good for you! But sometimes it is better to open the communication space for a deeper conversation. Usually this type of conversation makes sense when the person being coached is resistant to the expert’s (your) suggestions or where the expert (you) does not have all the answers to the problem at hand.

This is what I mean by responsiveness; the ability to (sometimes) play the non-expert and instead of giving advice, ask questions to better understand what your client’s underlying problems are.

Opening the conversation space for a deeper dialogue

Continuing our metaphor; these types of conversations are altering the operating system; not just downloading a new app. Here the agile coach is working with the client to re-assess attitudes, values and sense of purpose.

In follow up posts I’ll talk more about what happens once you’ve opened the space for a deeper conversation but for now maybe consider pausing next time you’re about to download an agile answer. Maybe consider asking a more open question first. Next time someone asks you “What’s the best way to estimate work using agile techniques?” you can respond with something like

“That’s an interesting question; tell me more about what your trying to achieve by estimating your work”

Instead of straight away giving answer, probe to check the intent behind the question. You might (probably) will still just give them answer but this practice will help you develop responsiveness.

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© 2020 by NIALL MCSHANE.