5 Recent Things I am Learning from My Remote #Coaching Experiment

I have spent the last couple of weeks on the road – travelling to spend two days each with two of the five organisations that are participating in my remote coaching experiment. The time I have spent face to face with these wonderful people has been really humbling and continue to help me validate the reasons that I launched the experiment in the first place. I am learning some really important lessons that will help me shape a possible service and I’d like to share them with you.

#1. It doesn’t really matter where you start the conversation

I once was asked “should we focus on problems or improvement?”. This experiment is teaching me that – if you are interested in a sustainable effective improvement – you cannot seriously explore improvements without really understanding what you are making better i.e. the less effective starting point or problem.

I have experimented with being Problem Focused with some participants in some cases and Solution Focused with others – to get some anecdotal evidence of what is more effective. So far, I think both are equally effective. But hugely dependent on how the conversation is facilitated and also the openness and empathy in the groups.

Ultimately I am learning that you start where you feel most comfortable and what really matters is the commitment to continue the conversation.

#2. People have day jobs, respect that

Every ‘Improvement Discovery’ session I have facilitated emphasises that everyone  has day jobs that affect their bandwidth to work on the things we want to improve. 

I say this to help set expectations of the level of involvement – at various times – that people may experience from themselves and others. 

Despite knowing this in my core, I sometimes find that I feel deeply frustrated when I cannot see any evidence of progress on the items that people signed up to. I wonder to myself:

Don’t they care enough about this problem to drop everything and fix it?
Don’t they respect me enough to do what they committed to?

Then I catch myself and remember that they have day jobs and whilst this is important for them – because they said it was – they also may be having a tough time trying to balance both commitments. Immediately this triggers an empathic response. How can I help them find the time to make the thing they want better, happen?

#3. Being remote requires emotional control

One of the more difficult things that I am experiencing is that, because I’m remote and not physically around the organisation and people, I am less able to easily access the non-verbal communication that is abundant with co-located group. I struggle to sense what is keeping people busy or what is distracting them.

I react in various emotional ways to this lack of input. First I may feel angry – that they are not ‘keeping up their side of the bargain’.
I may also feel unappreciated because ‘don’t they know I am sitting here waiting for them to pull my help’.

My main learning here is to come back to the context – and this is why it is really important to have context – so that I know that this is not personal. I am also learning that recognising that I have a feedback gap is very important. It invites me to share what I am feeling with the group and invite help to address the feedback gap.

#4. Getting Invited is harder than simply barging in

The core of my approach is that people themselves address the exploration of the improvement they seek. We find what we want to improve, prioritise them and then form working groups around each one to frame, explore and discover what concrete actions can be taken to make the improvement. I can facilitate, guide, collaborate, teach, coach and listen – or not –  to the extent that they need me to – but only if I am invited to do so. I call this ‘pull’. This is different from ‘push’ – which is more about me interrupting people – remember they have day jobs – imposing what I think they need. The coaching approach requires that participants understand this is the offer and are comfortable with pulling my involvement.

For the first bit – understanding the offer – I am learning that I need to be more explicit that I am available to be invited and this is really the main way I get involved and being clear about how they can make the invitation – scheduling a meeting, chatting on IM etc.

For the second bit – people feeling comfortable – I am learning  that people find it hard to pull even when they are clear that is the way to get my help. My understanding of why this is the case is evolving but so far being ‘too busy’ keeps coming up as a primary reason.

#5. A month is not very long to change everything

All the groups I am working with have 30+ members and cover almost the entirety of the functions to get stuff out of the door.

You can imagine that so many people have many things they want to improve. Some of these things are cross functional like ‘understanding of the value of what we are building’, others are specific to functions like ‘we need to increase database unit test automation’.

This experiment is 30 days long and is designed almost exclusively for my learning. During this time I want to learn what works and what sucks about working remotely – both for me and my clients. The only way I can really learn is by doing it. So the doing is  necessary but kind of no the aim. That said, once you ask people what they want to improve you better damn well have a plan to help them get those improvements.

So I am learning to be clearer that their journey of continuous improvement has no end date. It is neither constrained by time nor space, but simply by their commitment to work towards better versions of themselves. I simply jump off that line in 30 days as they continue.

Please share your experiences of working remotely in a coaching role or as someone working with a remote coach – I can use all the learnings I can get!

If you are interested in keeping up to date with what I am learning in this experiment – please consider signing up to my email list – I won’t ever spam, sell, share or otherwise pimp you details. Also consider following me on Twitter.

Featured Image By: squidishCC BY 2.0

An exclusive invitation to help me decide what to blog next.

I would love your help in deciding what to write next as a blog post. I want to write things that  entertain, inform and challenge conventional thinking.

On the following Trello board are the ideas I have to share – please help me by doing one or more of the following:

  1. Comment: what would you like me to focus on in the post that would be most valuable to you.
  2. Vote: to express your desire to read it if I wrote it. I will ultimately write everything that has a vote on it – the question is when. Though I commit to write a post a week – more if there are higher votes and a sense of urgency (I doubt , but who knows!)
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An ever full heart

My heart is always full.

Sometimes my heart is full of heaviness – pain, despair, anger, frustration and little isolated envies. Anger – at the disconnectedness between our hearts, between us and the pockets of truth it space and time. Frustration – at the time we are wasting on being disconnected and in pursuit of things that feed our delusions of ourselves.
When I feel this I want to be alone because I feel alone and I feel I want to be disconnected because we are disconnected. Sometimes I feel like I don’t want any part of the world I perceive anymore. And sometimes I am not.

Sometimes my heart is full of lightness and things that make me giggle. Things that elevate us above our other selves – and connect us to better,happier versions of who we are. It is full of unbelievable joy – that I can hardly contain. It feels like my heart will burst and an irrepressible light will burst forth into the world. And sometimes it does.
When I feel this way, I want to everyone to experience what I am experiencing, because if they did, it might change how the world seems to them forever.

My heart is always full and I endure or enjoy in full measure.

I often weep, sometimes inside, sometime openly. Whether heaviness or lightness, I weep. The only difference is what my tears contain and why they flow.

When my heart is full of lightness, my tears contain unbounded joy overflowing from my heart to the world – seeking to make channels through hard surfaces, working its way around the mistrust and resistance of the world to connect with all the beauty in the world so that it might become a wave that washes away the pain.

When my heart is full of heaviness, they contain despair that seeks to connect with the pain in the world, to form a pool in which we might bathe together but alone.

Even as I write this, my heart is full.

3 Things #Agile Teams Can Do Today To Improve #Estimates and #Estimating

Over and over again I find teams and organisations that have a chronic problem with ‘estimation’. It is one of the biggest causes of disharmony and mistrust in organisations I have worked with. Many tout ‘agile estimation’ as a process to help address this  and in some aspects it is helpful, yet many teams still struggle.

But it doesn’t have to be so, here are 3 handy tips that can help you. But before you read any further, I’m going to need you to do something – you and all the people seeking estimates and the people doing the estimating.

You have to get together and agree : For what reason(s) are you estimating?

If it is simply to have a number to go into a spreadsheet that you can then use in the defense or prosecution case then stop and go here, you will get far more satisfaction.

If it is to identify risks and inform a collaboration into whether what you are trying to build is worth taking those risks for then read on.

1.  Start Estimating Early

Figure what the minimum you need to start the conversation and then start it. I have found overwhelmingly in over 100 teams I have coached, teams asking to be involved much earlier on and many times the conversation starts with a one-liner and a sense of value. Then teams and the business can explore the risks together and collaborate on ways to minimise them.

The trouble I see most often is that information is not brought to the people who can best use it until the item becomes very important and increasingly urgent. This is the zone no one wants to be in. It adds pressure to the system that hinders collaboration and strains relationships.

2.  Elaborate and Estimate Often

Big bang estimation sessions are motivation killers and reach a point of diminishing value around the 90 minute mark – much sooner if there isn’t the information available for a meaningful conversation. Meaningful information is the key.

If we have nothing new to talk about then let’s not waste everyone’s time talking about it.

The focus is on relentlessly identifying what we do not know about risks that we can reasonably discover without actually building the thing. Then we go find more information about those risks – and in turn discover more about what we should be building, even how we should be building it.

Then we get back together and based on this new information we either know enough to quantify the risks and a sense of time or we have more stuff to go find out.

Most teams that I know getting great results from regular estimation – although they call it elaboration or grooming – are doing it 2-3 times week for no more than 1 hour. For some, they do it right after their daily stand up for 15- 30 minutes.

3.  Estimate Quickly

Time and again I find groups sitting mindlessly together, everyone individually frustrated at being in an estimation ‘meeting’ that is wasting everyone’s time. This is often a signal to me that the conversation has gone on far longer than it was useful. Of course some things need long engaging conversations, intertwined with times of contemplation where people can think about what has been said – but if you’ve been in those conversations you realise that everyone knows it is valuable. I’m not talking about those.

The trick – if I can call it that – is to be quick. For each item you are estimating, start by asking “what don’t we know about this that we need to know”. There are 3 possible responses to this:

We know all we need to know

Then go ahead and estimate using whatever technique you choose to derive your number (planning poker, affinity grouping, bucketing etc). Once estimated, move on.

We don’t know what we don’t know

Consider building a prototype to kickstart the questions or visit a customer or do a gemba walk. Do something to get to the first or last response. If you’ve tried everything and you cannot proceed, don’t build whatever you were asked to estimate. If you cannot find the answers to reasonable questions now, how might you fare when you have unreasonable questions and the meter is running? Decide what kickstart activity you will do to answer the question “What don’t we know that we didn’t know”, plan how to start (remember you have nothing else to talk about!) and then move on.

We need to know…

Write down as many things as people say, then quickly frame them as questions – using ‘What/How/Can’ – then prioritise them in some logical order.Then take between 3-5 from the top, figure out who will go hunt for the answers and then move on.

Whatever the case try not to spend more than 10 minutes per item. If you find yourselves approaching this limit, stop and ask yourselves is there any more value in carrying on.

I believe all estimation is waste – some might even be necessary, by preventing even greater future waste.

Did you find these tips useful? I know estimates and estimating are a controversial and potentially scary subject – how do you estimate, what are your stories. I’d love to learn and share.

I have gay sex because it's legal and other stupid stories

What really pisses me off about humanity is how  – in the same stewing pot – we have some brilliant ideas that move us forward as a species and at the very same time we demonstrate such rank stupidity and brutality that really questions whether we have moved from the cave.

I used to feel quite philosophical about it – the world is huge, it takes different opinions blah blah – now I’m just pissed off.

Now, there are always exceptions to every rule and I am happy to be introduced to them but I have never met anyone who…

  • Smoked marijuana because it was legal – they do it because they get high and chilled and they like it.
  • Had sex with other consenting members of the same gender because it was legal – they do it because they love the person or that is the kind of sex that works for them or both. On the contrary – most of the gay people I know have had to struggle through huge opposition to their sexual orientation. Opposition that is mostly presented by people who have no business in the sexual or emotional affairs of others.
  • Wants to marry to someone of the same gender because the the law allows it – they desire this as an affirmation of their love. Pretty much for the same reasons heterosexual couples desire it.

As it happens I don’t have gay sex – but if I did , and so long as it was consensual with another adult – then the Law and the Protectors-of-Bullshit-Morality have as much business with it as they do with my having straight sex. None.

Don’t get me wrong – anything that is non-consensual and that causes emotional and/or physical injury should be illegal and prosecuted to the fullest extent. We already have semi-reasonable laws around minimum ages of responsibility. They are broad brush, but generally adequate. Let’s use that.

‘Back the hell out of my bed’

I am not agitating for a change in the law on consensual homosexual relationships and recognition by law. I am agitating for a change in how laws are crafted. I don’t believe there should be laws that go anywhere near my sexuality and gender of my beloved. If I am of age – I choose who I want to have sex with and/or marry, so long as they are of age too. Simple.

Any laws, anywhere that bring gender into the sexual or emotional choices of adults is unjust and discriminatory and should be entirely scrapped – not better worded or buffered with concessions – scrapped.

Nigeria , Russia and Uganda are united by their bigotry. But even though it pains me to say – I think the lawmakers of those countries are responding to the larger public opinion. Are most Nigerians, Russian and Ugandans  – by virtue of history and religion – deeply hostile to homosexuality. I think they are. And that is the elephant in the room. Unfortunately their governments do not see their role as creating the conditions for a more tolerant society to emerge. That would take courage and courage is in short supply in politicians. But if government lack the courage to help hack more tolerance, then what?

I fear – as in the colonial struggles for independence, the US civil rights movement and the other great struggles to lift societies out of stupidity – it remains for the small pockets of progressive thinking to slowly, painstakingly help their societies to a better place.