The Art of the Approach


So I am about to embark into a hostile environment. I start at a new client next week and they have had a number of failed attempts in there agile journey. They have had some high level consultants go in and promise the Agile Utopia. Non of them have lasted.

I am alwasy curious to hear others creative techniques. I am being brought in as an “agile coach” not sure what that means to them but I am sure I will quickly find out. I want to be able to asses and get tactical very quickly but I will need time to evaluate current state. Also focus on the leadership and find those internal “change agents” and or “champions” to partner with.

Anyone have any suggestions on some things that are quick wins? I can quote @JayHorsecow and reference low hanging fruit but have spent a life time running away from my PM past. :-)… I have asked the current client where the other coaches have fallen short and i was not able to get a lot of info out of them. almost feels like a test (face palm)

I don’t have a ton of details so really walking into the ocean here in the dark. No clear direction other than my own. Hence why I thought I would post and see what others might think. Thanks… Look forward to reading some interesting responses.


Have you read much about the grows method ? This sounds like a good example of when it could be used. I’ve been reading about it a lot recently and find it to be the best method at least on paper I’ve seen for agile adoption.


Great Suggestion @troy… Forgot about GROWS. Like the Right way, Right thing, Rhythm message.


I think @andycleff knows a lot about it.


Ha. GROWS - - is on my list to learn more about. It does look very promising.

But before jumping into a “solution” - the thing I’d want to explore is: why do things keep failing?

Take that question at least five levels deep.

I recently read a nice post by Wemanity on why agile transformations are so damn hard.

Here’s a link:

I think there are some good nuggets in that post to could help inform a diagnostic approach.

PS: All agile journeys that stop are failed attempts. The path never ends.


Thanks @andycleff. I really want to get to the core of that. What is and are the issues. learn from past failures just not sure how much time I will have to get that. Seems like they are apprehensive to share. I am defiantly starting there and asked for 2 weeks to observe and provide a coaching plan. they didn’t say no yet they didn’t agree to that either.


My first question going in might be “Who fired whom on the previous engagement?”

Joking aside, what is the scope of your engagement? They expect you to boil the ocean all at once?


When asked about Scope it was we need to be agile in a few months. Follow up question was well what does agile mean to you… Response… That is why we hired you… lol…


Put them in a process prison:

just kidding ^


Unpopular opinion: stop with all the methods, frameworks, and other such clutter for understanding a client’s agenda or how to proceed.

You’re an Agile practitioner. If you’re being hired as an “agile coach,” chances are you have a state of awareness and insight that others at the company don’t have yet.

It won’t help you.

In time you’ll gather more information to help you understand if a method or tool or whatever will help you. But coming in, you only have two objectives:

  • Uncover what people are feeling. This is easy. You ask people, “What do you feel?”

  • Uncover what people need. This is easy. You ask people, “What do you need?”

In time, this information will allow you to leverage your awareness and mindset that make you an excellent Agile practitioner. Once that happens, the journey begins.

But not until you’re deeply aware of what all actors in the system feel and need.



Yep, but avoid the “Why” word. It can quickly turn people defensive. “Why” questions can be turned into what/how questions and then they may be much more effective. Read an article about it recently. I’ll see whether I can dig it up.

Hihi. It was here on agile uprising: Third point/quote.


Interesting! I never thought about people being defensive to “Why” questions. Thanks for sharing this. I personally am going to do some thinking about this as thinking back asking too many “Why” questions has caused me some pain in the past working with teams!



Here’s a cut and paste from the link @marjanvenema shared that made it more clear to me:

Here’s a script:

  • Why do you want to change? A: Because we want to promote quality in our team

  • Why do you want to promote quality? A: Because we haven’t always done the right things in the past, and this is a chance to start fresh

  • Why haven’t you done the right things in the past? A: I don’t know, we probably wanted to, but now we are just looking at this differently.

  • Why are you finally looking at things differently? A: Are you questioning why we are even doing this? What’s your point?

That’s 4 why’s. We didn’t even get to 5.

I’ve actually come to realize I ask why a lot. I don’t always interrogate people with this technique, but I do ask why.

Jackie illustrated that re-framing your question using Who, What, When, Where, and How – can often be far more effective at building relationships, and getting real answers.

New script:

  • What value do you think change will bring to your team? A. We think quality will be one the areas we will benefit from the most.

  • How will quality improve your team’s outlook? A. It will help us understand what we can improve, and also deliver better solutions for our customers.

  • How could we improve customer satisfaction? A. We should probably ask users if features we deliver are useful. We could also find ways to see which features are being accessed by users through usability studies.

You get the point. This is a contrived script, but feel free to experiment. I have seen a huge difference in how I approach interviews with clients, and the subsequent outcomes from our conversation.


Oh hey @marjanvenema!


:smiley: you here too!


I may be reading this wrong, but “apprehensive to share” and [we hired you to tell us what being Agile means] both seem like warning signs to me. Sounds like this could be a command-and-control organization where secrets are currency that’s traded to gain influence? If so, yikes. That probably doesn’t bode well for helping folks develop an Agile mindset, at least probably not in the timeframe they have in mind.

They may be looking for a methodology they can borrow from someone or somewhere else and just layer it on top of what they’re doing so they can call themselves agile. I think you’re on the right path with asking them what agile means to them. Success here may just be helping them get a little more effective/efficient in their development process, but you may not be able to make much progress in cultivating an environment of servant-leadership, self-organization, etc.

Curious to hear how this is going!


@marissa… You summed it up well. I started my white paper on this client already. I have been here for a week and well its (I hate to say it) familiar from what I have seen in other large companies looking to “DO” agile. So yes we want to work agile … but we need all this other process to.

I am going at the coaching from various points right now. I am pushing back on the leadership to understand and be part of the growth/transformation and also on the teams to be open and honest and showcase the ability to change. Lets just say I am not making many friends. This is to large of an initiative right now just to spin up 2 scrum teams and give it the agile stamp. They are very green and cause they have 2 week iterations they are calling themselves agile.

From a scrum standpoint they are challenged since only developers are “scrum” They have a water fall intake for requirements those are then broken down by a team of BA’s into use cases then those use cases are given to the Dev team… Then the Dev team writes the stories… Estimates in hours … Then works on the stories… then they hand off to QA. Then QA finds defects and it goes into the next sprint. So they have a dev sprint and then a triage sprint. SO basically a HUGE MESS!!! That is a snippet of some of the current challenges.

I think there is something wrong with me cause I love this type of project and challenge. I hope to be able to help promote the mindset. Mind is like a parachute only works when its open… … Stay tuned…


Andy sorry I missed your post.Are you coaching everyone or are there SCMs in place? The place I’m at had a “Agile Coach” prior. I just started from scratch. I had the managers list out all the stuff they wanted to do and then had them prioritized the work. Then taught the teams what agile was. As you know it is not about time boxes, writing stories and estimating hours or points. It is about communications and helping each other. It is about the manifesto and everything you teach points back. Also it is about having fun. I’ll check in with you soon.
Whatever you do just have fun and don’t let them get to you. Make it an experiment. Sometimes experiments get out of control and you just start over


@Leanleff, any updates in the progress of this project? Any experiments you can share with us? I definitely hope you’re making a positive impact but I’m also curious to hear what you’ve tried