The #Two traits great #Managers have #PMOT #Coach

Managers and management in general usually have a bad reputation. That is probably  doubly so for middle managers. These roles are usually the first ones identified for job reduction and attrition. Why is this? Truth be told, it is an exceptionally difficult role that not many people excel at. Usually people excel at one aspect or another of the role, but not at all of the aspects.

What makes a great manager?

So what makes a great manager? The manager must be an agent for the decisions and directions that come from above AND be an advocate for the teams that ultimately execute the work. Unfortunately, most managers tend to primarily identify with either agency or advocacy, but not both. Most managers focus their effort on managing the teams, but not managing the executives. Managing-up is one of the most difficult and challenging skills and most also be welcomed by the culture of the organization.

It is a delicate balancing act that experienced managers deftly handle – the right balance of agency and advocacy that promotes high-performing teams both above and below them. If this balance is not appropriate the manager usually defaults to just concentrating on one or the other – to the detriment of both executives and teams.

But when a manager has the right balance, they build credibility with both executives and teams. Once that credibility is built, the managers are then invited in to discussion and designs to influence, contribute, coach, innovate, and inspire both executives and teams.

Two Traits

The two traits that a manager or Project Manager must have to reach this level of proficiency are Business Knowledge and Realization Knowledge.

  • The manager or Project Manager must understand the business domain, business strategy, and culture of the organization they are an agent for. Why does the Business Exist? What is the Strategic Plan? Who are their internal and external clients? Who are their competitors? What are their values and principles?
  • The manager of Project Manager must also understand the realization domain and implementation processes as well. Whether the realization practice be accounting, engineering, software development, or teaching – the manager needs to understand the work and the profession. How do we implement changes? What professional skills are required? Who are the experts and why? What are the industry-accepted best practices? What are the new methods and technologies on the horizon? What practices are no longer being used?

Only when the manager has both these traits, will they have the credibility to be invited in, contribute, coach, influence, and help to innovate the strategy of the business and the implementation of business initiatives.

This is a not an easy combination to achieve and the lack of the these traits can lead to just ‘paper-pushing’ as the manager doesn’t have the credibility or knowledge to do more. Most times a manager may have one or the other trait and while this is beneficial, true high-performing teams arise when the manager or Project Manager has both.

Our responsibilities as managers is not to just perform administrative duties, but to relentlessly inquire and learn both about the business domain and the realization domain. Only then will the manager be an integral member that makes the executive and team members better by coaching up and down.


2 Rules of being an #Agile #Coach

I see that many times people talk about being an Agile Coach, but I fear they are leaving out some very important facts on what a successful coach is. The comparison to a sports coach is very easy. Both coaches are working with teams and also in a very dynamic and fluid situation. The definition of a coach from Wikipedia is:

“Coaching is a teaching, training or development process via which an individual is supported while achieving a specific personal or professional result or goal.”

What are you coaching?

I guess the crux of the question is what are you coaching? Are you coaching someone in the Agile Processes or are you coaching someone in how Agile processes can increase the likelihood of success for a project? The difference may appear to be slight, but there are a myriad of factors underneath the subtle differences.

I believe it is easier and of less value to coach the Agile practices. These standard practices can be gathered from many articles and books out there. The more difficult aspect of being an Agile Coach is coaching the team to “win” the project game.

To “win” the project game, I believe a project team must accomplish the following:

1) The client must be 100% satisfied with the solution

2) The team must have enjoyed the project and felt a feeling of fun and accomplishment.

3) The trust between the team and the client must have at least tripled on a project. (you can pick whatever number you like, but I feel the increase in trust must be significant)

2 Rules of being an Agile Coach

1) There can not be multiple “Oh Well” moments

Sometimes Agile projects propose that we will not provide an estimate and just work on items according to the client’s priorities. While this is good work if you can find it, it certainly does not prevent the “Oh Well, I need more money” moment. It also does not build up trust be between the project team and the client. If anything, repeated incidents like this will diminish the level of trust and may force the client into a more traditional approach. Agile teams must remember that even if we operate it an Agile manner, the clients need to request budget in a very traditional manner. When we have an “Oh Well, I need more money” moment, it makes the client look bad in their traditional environment. You get one, maybe two, “Oh Well” moments on a project before you are back in WBS hell…

So what can we as Agile Coaches do with the uncertainty we face?

2) There must be a holistic plan and a solution vision

It is only my opinion, but I believe that an Agile Coach must, must, must have a vision for what the plan is and what the solution will look like. He or she can then help to guide the team as issues arise. Now this isn’t to say that they can override the team, but they do need to remind the team when an issue looks to be compromising a major project objective or constraint. The Agile Coach has the responsibility to ensure that the project doesn’t just happen, but rather he or she helps the project to achieve what was intended. Most importantly, the Agile Coach must raise issues to the client while there are still multiple options. If the Agile Coach only raises an issue when there is only one solution, get more budget, the trust level will start to take a nosedive. Agile Coaches must remember that the client sets priorities on all project activities – including solution options.

Included in this rule is the fact that the Agile Coach must be very aware of the S-Word. Schedule. 🙂

Part of having a holistic plan is having a preliminary schedule. If you do not have a preliminary schedule, you likely will not be able to raise issues early enough so that the client has multiple options. Having a preliminary schedule allows you to be very aware when iterations start to consistently be late and can compromise the project objectives.

Remember it is all about building trust and ensuring the client has multiple options when an issue is presented. It is all about building trust every week on the project.

Proper Coaching Definition

I really, really like this definition…

“A professional partnership between a qualified coach and an individual or team that supports the achievement of extra-ordinary results, based on goals set by the team “