The Agile For Agilists Podcast

Irony 101: Agile Coaching, Just Not in Agile Quarters with Returning Guest Ken Rickard

October 16, 2023
Album cover for the Agile For Agilists Podcast featuring an image of special guest and Lean Change consultant, Ken Rickard
The Agile For Agilists Podcast
Irony 101: Agile Coaching, Just Not in Agile Quarters with Returning Guest Ken Rickard
In our recent deep-dive on ‘The Agile for Agilists Podcast’, Brad Nelson, Drew Podwal, and the ever-insightful returning guest, Ken Rickard tackle a captivating irony: “Agile Coaches Rarely Work in Agile Environments.” Together we ponder the unique challenges coaches face, emphasizing the need for heightened patience, focus, and a profound level of acceptance. Why? To meet organizations where they are in their agile journey, not where we might wish them to be. Drawing inspiration from Victor Frankel’s poignant reflection—”man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who was asked”—we explore the intrinsic motivation for agile coaches. In an atmosphere of candid conversations, we navigate the vast gap between the lofty expectations agile coaches harbor when entering new organizations and the stark reality of their agile maturity. Beyond identifying challenges, we share strategies: mastering self-advocacy, establishing one’s space, and influencing change from the top. Join us for a journey filled with rich insights, firsthand tales, and our signature dash of lively yet sardonic banter — a fresh perspective for every agile coach. Take one of Ken’s ICAgile or Lean Change courses with The Agile For Agilists Podcast exclusive 20% off discount by using code “Agile4Agilists20” at (only valid for Ken’s courses).


[00:00:00] Hello all you cool cats and agile lists Today On the episode We’ve got Ken Rickard from insight that is coming back again. And he had this wonderful topic that we wanted to put together. Just super cool. And it’s the idea that as agile coaches or scrum masters, we never actually get to work in agile because every time we come into a new role, a position. Contract or whatever that might be. If the organization isn’t yet. Fully mature, fully agile. They need us. And so we thought it would be really cool to talk about. What does it like to sit in that space? When you’re walking to an organization. That. Is not yet agile and your job is to help it. Move along incrementally on its journey. So to can step into a place where it’s constantly able to adapt to change and shifting market demands.

[00:01:25] We also want to remind you that our website www dot Agile for Agilists dot com is up and running. You can send us a message there. You can record a voicemail, , or you can email us at podcast at Agile for Agilists dot com. We also have wonderfully cool stickers that Brad designed. So fire us a message. and it includes your home address and we can send you some really cool stickers that you can put all of your laptop and. Be the envy of all your coworkers and friends. So sit back and listen to the episode and let us know what your thoughts are.

[00:01:59] Drew Podwal: when you guys… Brought up Agile coaches don’t work in Agile. I didn’t fully understand that at first, um, when you explained it, it like really set, like you saw my face, it set off like light bulbs a bit. So I feel like that would be a good place to start is, with the phrase Agile coaches don’t work in Agile.

[00:02:18] Ken Rickard: Probably a better way to explain it though. because at the end of the

[00:02:20] day,

[00:02:21] Agile coaches certainly work in Agile. The question is, should they?

[00:02:27] Drew Podwal: That’s why I asked you guys a little bit more about it. But when you explained it to me and I started to understand it from the concept of, well, yeah, if agile coaches worked in an agile environment, then what would their job be?

[00:02:39] Brad Nelson: right,

[00:02:40] Drew Podwal: Brad, when you brought it up to say, Hey, you know, most of us. Don’t work in Agile. We work in environments that were once waterfall and are now becoming more Agile. Scrum like or whatever your, methodology is. sprint after sprint, iteration after iteration.

[00:02:58] Ken Rickard: I mean, if I had to put a pin in it, what I would probably say is that most Agile coaches are not walking into a highly Agile environment where the people present think in the way that they think. That is assuming that they have matured themselves in a vertical sense, that they understand the underlying benefits and reasons behind agility, not agile as a framework kind of mentality.

[00:03:27] So, they’re rarely walking into an environment as a coach that is the perfect situation. We’re typically walking into one of the worst possible situations we possibly can, otherwise they wouldn’t need us.

[00:03:39] Drew Podwal: that was always my dilemma and I feel like I’ve come to peace with that a bit more. I would get so frustrated. That I’d be in this, this position again, where why, why can’t my teams just, uh, understand what I’m trying to do or why can’t I influence leadership?

[00:03:55] And now I realize it’s just an opportunity, right? Every, every time I experienced these kinds of things, it’s an opportunity for me to brush up my skills as a coach. throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what works and what doesn’t work. And so,

[00:04:10] Ken Rickard: Yeah,

[00:04:11] this is something that I was just at lunch today with a friend, and we were talking about how he had just gotten a new, a new job. He’s starting in a few weeks what he was saying is that, he’s really trying to focus on not thinking about how unagile they are because it’s highly likely, a large financial institution is not going to be ideally agile.

[00:04:33] in a position to execute or to behave in certain ways that we would think of, hey, oh, that looks like Agile, or this resembles agility. And what we were talking about is that we’re so often, if you think back, I think our last time I was here, we talked about Laloux’s, organizational altitudes, right?

[00:04:49] So Amber. Orange, green, teal. And we were talking about how most of the time we have elevated ourselves up to that green or teal level conceptually as Agile coaches. [00:05:00] This is where our mentality is at. And yet at the end of the day, we’re walking into orange and amber organizations with leadership that is.

[00:05:09] Operating and thinking in that Amber Conformist and Orange Achievement based mentality

[00:05:16] Brad Nelson: I think that applies across the board, and that was one of my things when I first moved to Ohio and started working for Cardinal, is I really tried to challenge my own expectations, and I think that’s a lot of it, is what is your expectations going into a situation?

[00:05:32] Because I think a lot of times when we’re frustrated or disappointed, it’s because we’ve knowingly or unknowingly set expectations for ourselves. At least in my situation, I expect more out of people and out of situations than are probably reasonable. And some of that comes back to me being a perfectionist.

[00:05:52] , and I think it’s the same with consulting. I admit, I didn’t necessarily get into consulting. Because I was like, I want to be a consultant. For me, it was more of, I saw it as an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to work in Agile, an opportunity to learn from other more senior Agilists. And the next thing you know, I’m at a client and I’m teaching Agile.

[00:06:14] And it was fine at first because my first client was really excited about it. They really wanted to learn. Then my next client, not so excited. And suddenly, it kind of hits you where you’re like, uh… This sucks. Why’d I leave for this?

[00:06:27] Drew Podwal: from a purist coaching perspective, one of the phrases that I love and have been trying to adopt and embrace more, is the idea that every opportunity that you can get to help somebody else is an opportunity for yourself to learn and grow. That helping somebody else is not one sided.

[00:06:47] It’s always bi directional, right? So, by flipping the script in my head in that way, it’s really enabled me to take pleasure in all of my work, By looking at the work that I get out of the work, The work that I get out of helping others. That becomes my joy, my passion, my excitement in coaching throw me a curveball, I want to see where it goes. I want to see how we can resolve this and what I can learn from it. it’s challenging to find yourself.

[00:07:20] towards that spot and even more challenging to remain in that spot. it’s almost like meditation where we’re like, I don’t know about you guys, but every time I get to that Zen spot, that peaceful spot in meditation, I know that I’m there now and I get excited about being there and I’m no longer in that spot anymore.

[00:07:40] Ken Rickard: Yeah, I think even for myself over the past few years, what I’ve had to become comfortable with is the idea that I’m going in to help people and therefore organizations along their journey, no matter where they’re at. And if my focus is on that change. then it takes me away from, it kind of removes me from, or abstracts me from this idea that I’m there to do the thing that I love.

[00:08:08] thing that I used to focus trying to help them to do scrum really well. Well, guess what? They’re not in a position to do Scrum really well. Just given where they’re at in their, let’s say in their org altitude, they’re highly conformed.

[00:08:22] they want everyone to adhere to a certain standard of practice. want to be able to achieve things faster than they ever had before, or make more money than they ever had before. And so, those aren’t the typical mentalities that we would prefer to see out of people that call themselves Agilists and organizations that are, operating with the behavioral patterns or characteristics of agility.

[00:08:44] But if we go in there and focus on the, hey, we need to do Agile like this, or we need to do Scrum like this, then we set ourselves up for failure. Because the gap in expectations is too wide initially, and then therefore as a coach we start to get really discouraged. When in reality, if we would focus on the change, so where are they?

[00:09:06] What’s the next step for them in their journey? How can I help them change and get to that next spot? And then how can I help them get to the next spot after that, and the next spot after that? And as we focus on the change, instead of implementing or installing a framework, or a scaling technique, or practices in general, we start to focus on the change.

[00:09:24] To me, it really starts to shift our mentality and how we show up, and then ultimately how they… How they experience us and then at the end of the day, how, how they change themselves.

[00:09:33] Drew Podwal: I was talking to somebody recently, they were asking a group, they had a large team, 20 people, how can we make our, daily stand ups to be more useful, when we have this many people on it? And, sure we could treat the, the symptom, right? figure out ways to, make it exciting or whatnot.

[00:09:57] I was joking around. I was like, alright, maybe we do, uh, [00:10:00] every other day, odds and evens. People with odd letters in their last name, they get to talk that day. But, um, they didn’t appreciate that, that sarcasm. But, you know, the thing that I was thinking about in that conversation was, you know, okay, how do we treat this cause?

[00:10:16] and at first well, maybe we could bring in the product manager, to observe in a daily standup to see the problem. And somebody was like, we don’t want to bring, product managers in. and that made a lot of sense, but then it dawned on me that, with the higher level.

[00:10:34] leadership calls, there’s often a lot of people on those as well. And they’re struggling in that way. And so, if you could play a longer game, where you’re not trying to get it one and done and solve the problem right away, the approach that we were talking about was, all right, let’s. like gently help them to see there’s a connection between some of the struggles they’re having on this meeting, with the team size, and then let’s help them to move into a place where they can problem solve a little bit.. and then lastly, let’s help them to move into a place where they can see how, if they’re experiencing team size, challenges that other teams might be experiencing as well, so that they on their own come to their own conclusion about that.

[00:11:19] But, that level of patience of being able to sit in the middle of something that is still dysfunctional. and not be able to solve it immediately is really difficult to get to,

[00:11:34] Brad Nelson: I think that’s exactly the situation we’re in, especially as a consultant, , which I think most coaches are consultants, whether you work for a company or you’re on your own. , I think we’ve talked about this in the past Drew.. It hasn’t been that long that we’ve had f t e coaches, , at most companies.

[00:11:48] So most of us are in this situation where we’re trying to give advice. And trying to figure out, , what is the best approach in an unideal situation, right? The situation is never going to be ideal anywhere, likely. we don’t live in a perfect world. And so oftentimes, the things that we’re trying to get creative with and the improvements we’re trying to make might not be what we would consider to be the ultimate improvement, the ultimate way to do something.

[00:12:18] It’s, how do we slowly move things forward? And that’s something I struggled with a lot. At first, in my career, I noticed I was very judgmental. I’d be like, why is someone doing that? That’s dumb. , you should never do that. And then I had a colleague that would always say, like,, it’s that way for a reason.

[00:12:35] Like, remember, things are the way they are for a reason. It might not be a good reason, but don’t jump to a conclusion. Don’t make an assumption. Try to figure out what that reason is. And that really stuck with me as I became a consultant and I was thrown in these situations where I was suddenly giving advice that I didn’t necessarily love, but it was the constraints that I had.

[00:12:57] And I remember thinking like, Oh, I hope the other coaches don’t find out about this and just roast me.

[00:13:02] Because that’s , well, some of it was psychological safety, but I think that’s the world we live in is it’s like, there’s a certain level of maturity to understand that. If you just come in and you say, no, this way or the highway, you’re the one that’s going to be on the highway, not them, right?

[00:13:17] You’re going to be the one that’s out the door.

[00:13:19] Drew Podwal: You know, there’s something that you’ve said a couple of times, Brad, that I, I never really latched on to. I’ve always wanted to unpack it a little bit more with you. and I think it directly relates. You’ve talked about this idea that With Scrum Masters or coaches that had a previous role at a Previous organization or company, were worked really well, that they’re just trying to make that happen again.

[00:13:42] and um, I do feel that there’s a, a very big moment that I can attribute my understanding, that where I worked with a fairly high maturity organization and I think for a while I was trying to recreate that with every other organization I was at. I think now I’ve realized to recognize that, okay, we weren’t doing everything great there, right? And there were some things that we did really well and there were other things that we were just in the middle with. And, so what are your thoughts on like the difference between trying to reach for that thing? that you had, and force others to behave in that way, you know, versus having that experience, like the value of having that experience is, you could see that it works, right?

[00:14:28] You, you

[00:14:29] Brad Nelson: Mm hmm.

[00:14:30] Drew Podwal: evidence that this thing that we do isn’t just some mythical unicorn. It’s out there. There are actually companies that, that are moving much closer towards high maturity.

[00:14:43] Brad Nelson: Yeah, I mean, I would say that is one of my biggest probably criticisms of other coaches in general, is that I think a lot of them are selling unicorns. A lot of them have never seen a high performing organization. [00:15:00] And I think I was both blessed and cursed with my first one. being a high performing organization. I do think there’s practices there that make sense. And my guess is that’s the thought behind the frameworks like Scrum or books like XP where, you know, these practices are always going to move you forward. But the thing that I’ve learned is that…

[00:15:24] Well, for one, you have different people, so different people respond differently, different people perform better in different environments or have different preferences or baggage. But also the tool’s different. Your customers are different. The things that you’re doing are different. You know, I went into an organization where all they bought was off the shelf solutions.

[00:15:42] And so they were configuring things and linking things together with scripts. They weren’t doing any custom development. My, you know, unicorn experience was all custom development. So suddenly, things that we were doing in custom development, they couldn’t do.

[00:16:00] Ken Rickard: I don’t know about you all, but as consultants, we rarely get to see the entire bookshelf of the journey of a transformation. We see it in the beginning and they, pay for a consultant to be there for some period of time, but then typically budgetary concerns start to come into play.

[00:16:18] And so then they, there’s a period of time when then they get rid of the coaches or they don’t use them for a while, they kind of try to do it on their own. You may get called back six months, a year, two years down the road when they feel like they’re stuck again. , but the consultant rarely sees the full transformation from where they start to some high performing, set of teams or an organization as a whole.

[00:16:41] So yeah, it, for me as a consultant, it’s typically piecing it together from bits and pieces of viewpoints of what I’ve seen in organizations and then trying to put that all together and say, you know, this is what a kind of quote unquote transformation looks like. think I’ve grown to, uh, appreciate the idea that companies don’t intentionally transform.

[00:17:03] They intentionally set out to change and then over time as they incrementally change, you could look back and go, oh, Yeah, we’ve transformed quite a bit, right, or we’ve changed quite a bit, but I don’t know that I buy into the idea anymore that companies should set out to transform themselves. It seems too, um, deterministic in a way.

[00:17:22] Brad Nelson: it reminds me of the Infinite Game by Simon Sinek where he talks about how there’s finite games like football or baseball where you can win the game and there’s infinite games which are like your life. Like, how do you win life? How do you win business? there’s not defined rules in that way and I view agility like that.

[00:17:44] Waterfall in traditional education has kind of that. Finite, mindset where I have to achieve this thing. I have to learn this thing and I’m done. And really what we’re doing is we’re shifting a mindset that, I don’t remember, I think it was Daniel Vacante who was like, don’t call it a mindset.

[00:18:03] But we are, we’re shifting mindsets or as Stephen Covey calls it, it’s a paradigm shift from I just have to learn this thing and then I’ve won. to know you have to always learn. So there’s no end state to the learning. And that’s the problem I have with these Agile transformations is it creates like this goalpost that I’ve attained this and now I’m Agile and I don’t have to do anything more to become Agile.

[00:18:29] I’m already there.

[00:18:30] Ken Rickard: We should recognize, though, that that’s probably a behavioral pattern that is of that Achievement Orange mentality, right? The winning, the achievement, the finite, like, okay, there’s a start and a stop, and I just need to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. is a very, Achievement Orange behavioral pattern.

[00:18:50] Brad Nelson: to me, it’s like laundry. I’m always going to have more laundry. I can’t just be like, oh, I’m done, and I have to wash clothes again. We create these habits where we’re constantly improving forever, and if you think you’re done, then I don’t know, your process or your organization is going to get smelly,

[00:19:06] just like dirty clothes.

[00:19:08] Ken Rickard: Brad, we’ve talked about this before, I think, , in the past when we’ve worked together. You know, there’s, the learning development that needs to happen, or what is often referred to in the, in the industry as vertical growth or vertical development, is this idea that they go from their current mentality, let’s call it orange, or even some conformist kind of amber behavioral patterns.

[00:19:28] To a higher altitude. In this case, they’d go up the pluralistic green, right? This idea that, well, we know people are important, we want to become more human centric, but to get there, they actually have to become more of a learning, not only as individuals, but a learning organization. And that takes that vertical growth to get there.

[00:19:49] Because if, when I hear people say transformation, oftentimes what they really mean is we’re trying to optimize our parts. So we’re focused on the

[00:19:59] [00:20:00] symptoms in the system, the parts and what the problems are with the parts and we’re trying to fix the parts and we’re trying to then fix the symptoms of those parts and how the parts work together in order to optimize or maximize their efforts or their outputs or their outcomes.

[00:20:15] But yet, what real transformation is, is this vertical growth. It’s succeeding in ways that you never have before. And I think a lot of people use transformation when they really mean optimization.

[00:20:25] Brad Nelson: Yeah, I could get on board with that.

[00:20:27] Drew Podwal: reflecting on the initial statement of Agile coaches not working in Agile. I think the thing that kind of frustrates me the most, is when the culture’s not there. Yeah, I think like to what you’re talking about, Ken, is that they’re not, they haven’t yet stepped into that learning mindset.

[00:20:47] or at least leadership is not enabling that to actually happen. That’s where I think I feel most challenged of remaining zen and in my center to looking at it as an opportunity to continue to learn. that’s when I feel like I’m slamming my head in the wall over and over

[00:21:04] Ken Rickard: Yeah. Yeah. And to help people get there, it’s, you know, a framework is never going to convince a middle manager or an executive that they need to change how they think and act. But you know, one of the biggest thing I think coaches should be responsible for.

[00:21:23] in an organization that is again quote unquote trying to transform is not to go in and focus on the framework But actually go in and focus at the individual level to help them develop and grow Because you can’t get and this is my personal opinion I think there’s a lot of people that would agree out there But you can’t get to that vertical next level of behavioral patterns in your organization without addressing the individual and therefore the individuals that make the collective And the collective, then, that ultimately makes the organization.

[00:21:54] So one of the things I feel like we should be doing at the forefront is just addressing people at the people level. Even if they’re at Orange and they’re not ready for that yet, we

[00:22:02] still have to start addressing

[00:22:04] Brad Nelson: To steal from Ken’s favorite, ProSci. They say people change,

[00:22:09] not organizations.

[00:22:11] Ken Rickard: we’ll be nice.

[00:22:14] Drew Podwal: my new manager, who I’m working for now, at least once a day, she’s asking me, what can I do to help you to keep moving things forward? And it. I light up every time she says it because it’s been a while since, a while or never since I’ve had somebody really say that with that level of frequency and that level of honesty, she wants to hear that and, it’s great to feel that level of support.

[00:22:43] Brad Nelson: is your manager, your manager’s the head of the Agile program

[00:22:47] though? Yeah, so I do think that’s some of it. I don’t feel like I talk about it a lot anymore, but one of the things that I really appreciated when I was at Meijer is that managers were called your first assistant. And I didn’t know that at first.

[00:23:04] So I was trying to get some time with one of the architects and he’s like, Oh, let me reach out to my first assistant. And I was like, you got an assistant? And it’s your first one? So you must have more than one assistant? Like, wow, you must be a big deal. But I came to really appreciate that because they’re the first person you go to for assistance and that really relays that servant leadership mindset. And it seems like a lot of these organizations over the last 10, 20 years, maybe, you know, 100 from Taylorism have this mindset of my job is to tell you what to do, not help you be successful.

[00:23:42] And we’re creatures of habit, and we’re also creatures of our environment. And so when managers are in that environment, where they don’t listen, they’re the ones that are talking, they’re the ones that are commanding. Thank you. I think that

[00:23:56] kind of translates across the board.

[00:23:58] So even coming in as a consultant or a coach, they’re not really there to listen to you. They’re there to use you as an instrument to achieve whatever change it is that they foresee the team needs. They may not understand

[00:24:14] what that change looks like, but they have an outcome in mind, and I think that goes back to the optimization

[00:24:19] Ken Rickard: mm-hmm. Yeah. And I’ve only seen good leadership in pockets. I mean, you, you’ll run across good leaders. I’ve never been in an organization where it’s mostly good leaders, though.

[00:24:30] Brad Nelson: And I think a lot of managers get really frustrated. A lot of the… Servant leaders or more Agile friendly managers don’t stay there because they struggle with that too. I can speak from my own personal experience, but also a lot of our consultants that we had at Insight were managers at one time. Like, there were Agile coaches that went and got that manager gig, because you’re working with [00:25:00] managers all the time, so you have the network. And then they spend a year or two or three as a manager and they get frustrated and they go back to being a consultant.

[00:25:09] It reminds me of being an entrepreneur or even a manager. A lot of times, someone who starts a business, it’s because they’re super passionate about something. But then once you’ve started the business, you don’t have time for that thing you’re passionate about anymore.

[00:25:23] You’re too busy running a business. I think managers kind of fall into that too, where it’s like, oh, you’ve achieved, you’re really good at this thing. So because you’re so good at doing this, we’re going to promote you up to a management role. And then you’re no longer doing that thing. You’re now helping others do that thing.

[00:25:41] We talk about it a lot as, there’s more skills to leadership than just being good at a particular skill set, which is true, but I also think people don’t appreciate that you’re really going to be doing something else and you need a different mindset.

[00:25:56] Drew Podwal: yeah, I was thinking about this the other day. An engineering manager, in a waterfall world, they probably own the, enabler projects, , the architectural improvement projects and whatnot, and in a more Agile world, what we need them to do is, is like, okay, you’re a people manager.

[00:26:14] but your primary focus is leading, right? And so focus on helping your developers to become better developers. ask them, what can I do to help you to, reach your, your sprint objectives or your sprint goals, and that the product owner now owns the features. And that’s a very uncomfortable thing for people to let go of because, I’m letting go of my budget potentially, right?

[00:26:44] I’m letting go of my project and, now my job is to like tutor people and, help them become better developers. , it’s a challenge to get people to shift into a different mindset there.

[00:26:57] Ken Rickard: Well, it’s really similar to, in coaching roles who still take advisory and consulting, uh, stances, when in reality, they’re in positions that should be taking more of a mentorship and a coaching stance, and to be able to decipher between those two stances, and know when to play one or the other is, is actually a primary function of what I think a… umbrella term consultant, should be capable of doing.

[00:27:24] Drew Podwal: if you’re in that position, right, and I’ve definitely been in that position before and it didn’t sit well with me and I was super frustrated where, where I was a coach, but I was really looked at it as, part of the delivery system as opposed to somebody who’s standing like just on the field to the side, and helping everybody, Figure out how to run better plays and, it’s hard to sit in that spot, but if you find yourself in that spot, the game for you becomes, how can I experiment with managing up so that I can create this bubble in and around my role, And, and like, that’s a huge skill that often people like scrum masters and coaches often look for somebody else on the outside or above them to sanctify the space for them, to bestow the authority on them to behave as a coach, as a facilitator, and it’s hard when you, when you feel like all is lost and you’re just in a tight spot.

[00:28:25] And so you then go along with it and you go along with it, but, If there’s one thing you can get out of that and take away is the ability to experience how to coach up, To create that bubble and get some more of that support and buy in for yourself. Like, we all, we forget that like, we do this really well for others, Why can’t we also do this for ourselves? Uh, we tend to expect somebody else is going to do that for us.

[00:28:53] Ken Rickard: It reminds me of, I run these personal development, what we call quests, at the consulting firm I work for. And I was just in some sessions this week with some folks that are going through this kind of one on one coaching, kind of personal growth, quest. And, I had multiple people this week talk to me about how they.

[00:29:15] feel like they show up in different ways given their personal lives and their work lives. And as we dug into that, what they started to realize is that a hierarchical system causes you to behave in different ways. Whereas you feel like you have autonomy and you have some ability to do the things you want in your personal life, you have more control there.

[00:29:35] You step into the system of a workplace where there’s hierarchy and there’s structure and there’s consequences. That don’t exist inside of your personal life in that same way, and now your behavioral patterns start to actually change because of the consequences that are present there.

[00:29:52] Drew Podwal: There’s so much value in that. I, I know for me, right. One of the things I’m working on in my backlog of improvement [00:30:00] items is I do still struggle with managing up at times. I, I feel like what I’ve identified is this, that, I often set the stage for the imbalance in authority and power by entering into that conversation with the mindset that that already exists, and that my language, is communicated through the lens of, of somebody who is of lesser authority and power you know than of the other person, and so that’s something I’ve been working on it’s been an interesting journey of being more conscious of what’s going on there. but that’s an amazing skill to be able to have There’s a fallacy also where people think that the role of a scrum master is like an entry level just at a college job. I see it all the time, people ask, like, how can I land my first Scrum Master job?

[00:30:56] And it’s like, all right, well, what experience do you bring to the table? Oh, you know, I, I was working at Denny’s, after college because, you know, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. And, now I realize I want to be a Scrum Master. and. I try to like what I look for in that kind of position is I’m trying to suss out like what in their personal life at that point correlates to the role and responsibilities of a scrum master, um, and help them to figure out how to tell that story.

[00:31:24] But the reality is it’s not an entry level position. You’ve got to know a ton about like psychology. group dynamics and, learn how to influence others. Your job is not just to make sure the JIRA tasks are updated and, you’ve moved them to the next stage

[00:31:40] in the pipeline. that’s not a Scrum

[00:31:42] Ken Rickard: It’s not being a juror monkey. if I can, play the, the opposite side of that coin a little bit. I I think the, generation that’s coming up now is much better. at handling that kind of mentality that we would expect out of an Agilist today than people who have been in the industry for 10, 20, 30 years because what we carry is some baggage from former ways of working that we have to unravel or unlearn which can cause us to just step over the line from a more waterfall ish kind of top down mentality that’s built in a hierarchy where there’s power structures and there’s…

[00:32:22] information hoarding and there’s decision making that’s made only at the top of the organization and then, and then kind of trickle down through the organization from there. Those behaviors, those patterns, if they exist in us because we’ve learned them or been conditioned by them over time, just take a step over from there and try to step into a scrum master role immediately.

[00:32:43] What makes that hard for people like us back in the day was that we have to unlearn what we’ve learned. And how we’ve been conditioned. Whereas kids coming fresh out of college, they have a completely different mentality than we had. And we, we have to be able to step into that. So, I agree that what they’re lacking is coaching context, or business context.

[00:33:06] But often times if they understand, , social systems, and a lot of them do nowadays better than we do, or we did. it’s much easier for them to step into the role of a Scrum Master. or into eventually into some kind of more agnostic coaching role, uh, than it would have ever have been for us. At least, that’s the way I think about it.

[00:33:26] Drew Podwal: I think there’s some validity to that, you know, but whenever I’ve met people who are in like a computer science program, like the last time stood out to me was, one of the people who was coaching me in tennis. I found out that he was in a computer science program and I got excited. I was like, Oh, so you must know what Scrum and Agile are.

[00:33:46] And he was like, I have no idea what that is. And so I wind up bringing my laptop the next time we, I was taking lessons from him and we spent about an hour after the lesson, like going over the scrum guide and other Agile principles and things like that. I don’t think they’re teaching this, in

[00:34:05] like they’re teaching them how to architect, how to, how to engineer, how to write code.

[00:34:10] But they’re not really prepping them to be a person who is collaborating with others on a team. so while I think maybe the mindset is there, and it’s different for us because we actually had to really unlearn a whole lot of stuff. Um, you gotta remember like the people who are still in teaching roles in colleges are, are like our age or

[00:34:35] older, you know, with the mindset of this is how we had it. So you should have it this way too.

[00:34:40] Ken Rickard: yeah. And I’m not sure how many of them are getting current experience either. I mean,

[00:34:45] once they’re tenured and they’re professors,

[00:34:46] then most likely they’re staying a professor. And sure, they can read books or somebody, you know, they can go to conferences and whatnot. Um, and I’m sure there’s some continued learning there even as a professor, but…

[00:34:57] I suspect they’re not getting the [00:35:00] hands on experience of going

[00:35:03] back into the workforce in a capacity that would give them that experience because they’re tenured professors.

[00:35:09] Brad Nelson: my understanding is most colleges don’t teach any sort of agility, but some are starting to. I’ve heard, in various conversations people talk about it, or my cousin’s been trying to do it a little bit in Grand Rapids, and so I definitely think that there’s a need there. I do think that there is a mental shift that has happened across generations, as we see the younger generations, and Uh, that makes sense because us as parents, we’re trying to raise children in the way that we see to be maybe a better way than our parents raised us. And so hopefully we’re always improving. Even if you have great parents, they probably weren’t perfect. We’re, We’re, continuously improving as a human race. Hopefully. but, you know, I do think some kids have team experience, maybe more fresh team experience if they’re on, in the chess club or, you know, they’re on the soccer team or whatever it is.

[00:36:11] It’s not like they’ve never been in a team before. I think the question is… You know when it comes down to like knowledge first experience Where are you teaching from and how much experience or knowledge do you need to be a scrum master? I feel like this has been a long Thing that’s been around for a long time.

[00:36:29] Like do you really need to know software development to be a scrum master? don’t think there’s any argument that it doesn’t help.

[00:36:36] Drew Podwal: I think though that there’s a very specific love language for Agilists, right? Like I, I don’t know many Agilists or maybe there, I shouldn’t say there aren’t any, but for most part, like. Our love language is, is helping other people experience agility and helping them to improve our agility. And, it’s the conversations, the ability to have a conversation and say, you’ll never, guess what I was able to influence my team to do. Finally today, I’ve been working on this behind the scenes with them, trying to just even break through so we could have this conversation for three months now, right? Like, that’s our love language, right? And I think the, the manager love language is how can I climb the ladder? How can I get more authority?

[00:37:25] how can I get paid more? I’ve always kind of trusted that I’ll get paid commiserate with my, my, capabilities. And that if I focus on myself within every single job I’m in, that all of those other things will come.

[00:37:42] Ken Rickard: I might suggest that the job of a coach is to help people change and adapt.

[00:37:51] And beyond that, I don’t know that it really matters.

[00:37:54] Brad Nelson: Yeah, I mean I agree that coaching is about helping people change I do think that there’s some value in knowing what good looks like, at least in some capacity. You might not know what good looks like for someone else in particular, but understanding, like, what’s possible or being able to give advice, which, like, I guess then you’re out of professional coaching, according to some people, and maybe I’m thinking more of a consultant. To me, it seems like people either can coach, and they’re just really good at asking questions and kind of redirecting and helping people change, but they can’t truly mentor, or they just fall on mentoring always, and they’re not good at stepping back and coaching. And I do think that I tend to lean a little bit heavier on the mentoring teaching side myself.

[00:38:44] Like, I can admit that. But I do see value in being able to do that as well, especially if you’re in a situation where people are just starting out. To me, I view the different stances as the level of maturity of the person you’re working with. So at first I teach, then I mentor, then I coach, generally speaking.

[00:39:08] And the idea is that I’m more hands on, like with a child, you’re more hands on. When they know the least. And then as they start to show aptitude, you slowly step back and let them operate on their own.

[00:39:25] Drew Podwal: I feel like I flip flopped that one a bit, because one of my tactics to coaching is to allow my, clients to experience a little bit of what the burn feels like in some regards, I’ll tend to like look at what their willingness is and capability or readiness is to lean into specific concepts.

[00:39:46] I’ll poke at it to see what, where they’re at with it. And if I feel like they’re not ready for it, then. I’ll ask questions about what they want to do with it. And I’ll ask questions about , How do you think it’ll affect something [00:40:00] else if, if we don’t do something about this now and if they ultimately accept it, then, then I’ll let them accept it and I’ll confirm that they’re accepting it.

[00:40:09] because I don’t want to do things for people early on. for the sake of helping them to get further down the pipeline, because now they’re used to me doing this kind of thing. you know, you could say to them, like, you know, this isn’t really the role that I should be doing, but I’m going to do this for you for the next, like, three sprints or six sprints or whatever that is until you guys get used to it.

[00:40:32] and they might take that in the same way that you mean it, but then you also now might be a cog. in the system that you have to unstick yourself from, so. Yeah.

[00:40:44] Brad Nelson: Well, I, I think the key there is I’m not doing it for you. Let’s do it together.

[00:40:49] Drew Podwal: Yeah.

[00:40:49] Brad Nelson: And then once we’ve done it together a few times, it’s like, well, you don’t need me for that anymore. We’ve done it. Why don’t you try it on your own? And then if you get stuck, come back to me. But I think one of the challenges, and you mentioned there, like, let them burn a little bit, and sometimes you have to let them feel the pain. There’s no better way to learn than to feel the pain, but I think a lot of these organizations only know pain. They don’t know a different world. And so it’s not until you remove the pain that they’re like, oh, the world could look like this.

[00:41:20] Like, if you’re a smoker, you don’t realize that you smell like smoke everywhere you go until you quit. And then you’re like… Did I smell like that all the time? Because you’re used to it. You’re in it. You’re living

[00:41:31] Drew Podwal: Yeah,

[00:41:32] Brad Nelson: I’m calling organization stinky again, I guess. I don’t know. I’m just, I’m on that, on that vibe tonight.

[00:41:39] You know, one thing that I usually kind of circle around when we have these conversations of, you know, being an agile coach and, and, not working in an agile environment is one of the things that we tend to relate to with like martial arts is to become a master, you have to train a master. And so I do think becoming a coach does help you to learn and understand whatever it is you’re coaching better, in our case agility. But I can’t help but wonder if we’re in a situation where we always leave before their masters. And that’s like a martial artist always having brand new students that get to like a yellow or green belt and they quit and they never truly train another master. Are we limited? In that capacity as well.

[00:42:29] Drew Podwal: You know I’ve been talking a lot about the elephant rider and path model for, for change.

[00:42:34] Brad Nelson: Elephant Rider and Path

[00:42:36] Drew Podwal: No, it’s um, so the idea is that an enterprise organization is comprised of, of leaders and people, the people represent the elephants and the rider represents leadership and that, , the path is, where we’re trying to help move the herd onto, when we’re coaching them, right? And sometimes the rider is ready to go on the path, sometimes the elephant is ready to go on the path, sometimes they both are, and sometimes neither.

[00:43:03] And I, sometimes there’s, you know, a rider and an elephant that wants to go check out the waterfall over there. and so like reality is, is that like an enterprise level organization could be like hundreds of, riders and elephants and their pathways could be all over the place.

[00:43:20] What we’re trying to do is, influence, leaders and elephants to move in the direction of the strategy for change, and helping them to organize. for that change to occur, with the right structure of people and that Culture is actually a wrapper around this pyramid, of all these concepts and that oftentimes companies want to only focus on process

[00:43:46] And so if you only focus on process, then it, It It applies pressure to the the elastic band of culture that’s around the organization. And it puts stress on all of the other areas, once that consultant gets fired because they were crazy or whatever, that it all just snaps back anyway.

[00:44:04] And any, any of the work that was, was done, tends to slip away into the ether.

[00:44:09] Brad Nelson: I believe that action defines culture. How we act is what creates the culture we’re in. And so, in some of your examples there, or previous examples we’ve had, if I’m telling people what to do, I’m creating a culture of command and control. If I come in and I ask, if I say, hey team, we have this problem. I’m looking to you to help me solve it. You’re creating a culture of troubleshooters and listening.

[00:44:41] Ken Rickard: yeah, I like to say, eyes open, ears open. the first thing we can do is observe and listen. And. You know, again, if we’re being hired as a consultant, that may not be the stance that, is expected of you. So we’ve got to manage expectations appropriately. But I think the best thing we can do is, is go in and listen, eyes open, ears open, [00:45:00] because there’s a lot of dynamics that happen in an organization that are unsaid, or are unknown that you can pick up on if you’re just the fly on the wall.

[00:45:09] And so… depends on what capacity you’re coaching in. you know, A lot of us are still, coaching towards a delivery capacity. So we’re often coaching down at the team level where the work happens and where the, outcomes are produced. And so if you’re at that level, obviously, then where you’re going to go and observe and listen is typically in the team space or in the virtual team space or in the events, the meetings, the ceremonies, whatever you want to call it if you’re working at a, you know, if your coaching capacity is at the organization or the enterprise level or with some part of the hierarchy, then, it’s really about just trying to get a better understanding of the dynamics that are in place at the managerial levels. So there’s a good bit of perspective mapping that needs to most likely take place.

[00:45:56] having interviews and talking to people, um, to get their perspective, being able to then go back and map and strategize on those perspectives. given whatever the goals and the objectives are. And then, there, there’s, there’s a whole area of systems entry that is, is there as well. So, you know, systems entry is really trying to describe how you show up in a system and what’s currently present and then how you show up in that system and then try to help it from there.

[00:46:22] And so there’s a good bit of alignment and agreement. I know the Agile Manifesto says you shouldn’t rely on contracting, but one big part of systems entry is contracting, so first of all, what is my scope here, what have we agreed upon, what is in the contract, and then from there, okay, how do I show up in that capacity in order to help the organization, thrive.

[00:46:43] Brad Nelson: Yeah, I think that goes back to setting the expectations,

[00:46:47] right? Like as human beings we assume Like, that’s part of our nature that is what allows us to do what we do. I learned that there’s oxygen in the air so I can breathe. So I assume if I go into a room, there’s going to be oxygen. I don’t have to

[00:47:04] worry about it every time. And I think that translates to, you bring in a coach, you have assumptions that they’re going to do this or that. And so, uh, creating that working agreement or that contract I think is crucial.

[00:47:19] Drew Podwal: along the lines of assumptions, the assumption that a new coach should be making as they’re accepting a role and coming in is they should assume that they’re not going to, work in an agile mature organization, I think that getting back to it, coaches often think that that’s what they want. That’s what they deserve. If only I could find that. and the opportunity that you have in front of you is if you assume that they’re at some point between, A and infinity on their, journey, and that. there’s likely going to be some things that are impeding your ability to coach, Then everything’s great. But if you’re expecting that you’re just going to walk in and be able to coach, no matter how much I trust that the person promising me that I’m going to, I’m going to get to coach, I’m going to get the opportunity to coach.

[00:48:15] There’s always something.

[00:48:17] Ken Rickard: Something I put a good bit of thought works into earlier this year is something I’ve started referring to in the lean change world of, uh, the five levers of change. And so we, we often talk about three of them pretty regularly, which is people, process and tools or technology.

[00:48:31] Right. But if those are the only three things we’re talking about, if those are the only three levers that we can pull, we’re missing a good bit because typically people look at those three levers as. Okay, we’re going to change technology like JIRA or ADO and then, we’re going to switch out a process.

[00:48:47] So we do things this way now and we’re going to do things in an agile way going forward. And so whatever that looks like to them, and then people are just impacted by those two things. So, oh, you’re changing tools, oh, you’re changing process, okay, what do we need to do differently as people. And the thing that’s rarely addressed or looked at in that kind of people lever of change is that the consciousness side of the people that are involved, not just impacted by the other levers of change, but actually, okay, do we address their vertical growth by helping them raise their awareness and their consciousness so that they can vertically grow just like the scrum masters and coaches are doing?

[00:49:27] so that’s three out of the five, but then the other two wound up being, um, structure and strategy. two things that are often left out of the conversation when it comes to Agile and things like transformation.

[00:49:38] Brad Nelson: That’s interesting. It’s Corporate Rebels that has the example of how they managed to create change through structure changes, if I’m remembering correctly, Ken.

[00:49:49] Ken Rickard: Oh, Corporate Rebels has a lot of stuff, yeah. , Are you talking about their, at one point they put a blog post out around organizational design over the years? Are you talking about that?

[00:49:59] Brad Nelson: I don’t remember [00:50:00] now. I thought they, one of the ways that they helped to introduce, Organizational maturity was they basically blew up the org chart and created a more matrix one that served the organization

[00:50:13] Ken Rickard: well Corporate Rebels is mainly, um, to educate the industry. Yeah. through examples so that there’s social proof that vertical change is not only happening but it’s succeeding and thriving in certain companies because they have this whole bucket list of like 100, I person slash organizations that are operating in a more of a teal or kind of pluralistic green approach.

[00:50:41] And so what they’ve done is in that bucket list, they’ve gone out and interviewed companies or specific leaders that are exhibiting the kind of leadership characteristics of teal or green and then They’ve got on their website. They’ve got Stories about each one of those that they’ve gone and talked to and the bucket list where they haven’t gone and talked to those people And organizations they’ve got placeholders there to show that yeah, this is our bucket list that we know right now And then the two guys that run Corporate Rebels basically travel around the world interviewing people and then organizations as to how they’ve achieved some level of advanced, you know, kind of vertical development in their organization.

[00:51:18] Agile in some ways has become this kind of four letter word because it’s been so misused. A good amount of those companies that are listed in there and they even have videos you can go up to YouTube to their channel, Corporate Rebels, and the videos are really amazing because they’re typically short.

[00:51:34] They’re somewhere in the range of like four to eight minutes. And they’ll profile an entire company and how they operate, mainly in the teal and, and green, organization levels, but they will, give you the, premise and the function of how that organization works in just that short amount of time.

[00:51:54] And they’re very well done. I use them in the classes all the time. and one of these days, I hope one of these days, I’ll go through their academy. Because they have an academy too where they put leaders through. And you get to learn about all the various organizations and how they’re operating as well.

[00:52:11] Brad Nelson: Well, that’s your problem, Ken. Agile’s a five letter word, so

[00:52:14] you must just be

[00:52:15] Drew Podwal: Yeah, you said that, I think you said in the last podcast as well, and I was thinking, I was like, wait, Agile, how many?

[00:52:22] Ken Rickard: Yeah. Well, I, I’m

[00:52:24] not good at math.

[00:52:25] Brad Nelson: I mean, that’s the joke, right? Everyone’s always like, oh, well, if you don’t like Agile, you’re not doing it right. But I think the reality is that most organizations that we look to as like the poster children of Agility or the companies we’re trying to be similar to don’t use that word either.

[00:52:44] Ken Rickard: they’re just setting out to be adaptable. Right? To be… Elastic, to be flexible, to be resilient, those are the characteristics of an organization that is not stuck on the installation or the implementation of said thing, like Agile or Scrum. I know Agile and the manifesto had different intentions originally, but I think, like I’ve said, it, it has completely been bastardized, so, the way it sits now is that it’s a commoditized thing.

[00:53:13] And so people try to install or implement the commodity that exists nowadays. And so a lot of these teal organizations, there’s not very many of them, but the ones that do exist, they’re not concerned about all that. What they’re concerned about is the impact we’re having on society and the upscaling of folks around us.

[00:53:30] Brad Nelson: that goes back to something you mentioned earlier, Drew, like the harder they’re trying to sell you on something. I feel like the harder an organization tries to sell you on the fact that they’re agile, like the least agile they are when you get there.

[00:53:42] Drew Podwal: Yeah, I agree with that. I agree

[00:53:47] with that.

[00:53:49] Brad Nelson: all right. So, uh, this has been a great conversation. It sounds, you know, if I were to sum up what I’ve heard from, from you, Drew, I heard that if you’re in this situation, You know, uh, to put it in my words a little bit, find your tribe.

[00:54:03] Don’t, don’t let yourself be on an island. If you can find people internally, that’s great.

[00:54:09] If you have to look external, you’re perfectly capable of doing that, but find other like minded people to keep you sane. Anything else you would add to that, Drew?

[00:54:18] Drew Podwal: , well, I do have, , the, uh, Viktor Frankl quote, it’s man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who was asked. . I probably should have

[00:54:30] said that with they them. but, those are Viktor Frankl’s words. Right. And so we, need to figure out our own meaning in our jobs, as opposed to waiting for somebody else to define that for us.

[00:54:43] Brad Nelson: I love it. And then Ken, your first advice was listen, observe, and I love that too.

[00:54:49] Drew Podwal: It was eyes open, ears open, right?

[00:54:52] Brad Nelson: Eyes Open, Ears Open. Yeah, I was thinking of Xeno when you said that where, uh, his quote is something along the line of nature has given you one [00:55:00] tongue but two eyes, so you should listen twice as much as you talk

[00:55:04] or something like

[00:55:04] Ken Rickard: It should be two years,

[00:55:05] Brad Nelson: Um,

[00:55:06] two ears. Yes, it was supposed to be two ears. It was when Drew said two eyes, it threw me off. Yes. Oh man, it’s getting late. Alright, so I butchered that one, but I still love the quote. I would say for me, I find that I can be a very reactive person. And so when I’m put into an unideal environment, I tend to just react to things that happen to me. And it almost becomes like that victim mindset. I’ll admit I can fall into that. Instead of taking a step back and just understanding, this may be where they’re at or this is what they’re asking, but really thinking about, like, what is the ask and trying to understand, what levers are available and how I can approach it in a more coaching way than necessarily just responding to the situation.

[00:55:56] So that would be my advice as the kettle. Calls the other kettle black or whatever it is. I’m just terrible at sayings today. Do you have any, uh, talks or classes or anything coming up, Ken?

[00:56:12] Ken Rickard: Uh, I’m going to be speaking at Agile DC 2023 in a few weeks. There I’m going to be talking about how you can become the coach you always knew you could be.

[00:56:24] Drew Podwal: see,

[00:56:24] I definitely want to take one of your, your courses because , I really feel like I align very well with your coaching mindset in an Agile world, yeah, so I mean, I’m serious. Let me know when the next time you have one of your courses runs.

[00:56:41] Ken Rickard: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t have much scheduled right now because we’re getting into Q4 but. I do have, I do have an ICP CAT, so coaching Agile transformations coming up in November. Um, there’s a possibility I’m going to have an ENT, so Enterprise Agile Coaching.

[00:56:59] before the end of the year, I don’t have it scheduled right now, but I’ve got a client that’s interested in getting some people into a public class, so I may set one of those up, it depends on them. it’s, it’s transformational in a way because I think the combination of lean change with enterprise coaching and enterprise transformation is a powerful combination.

[00:57:19] I think it’s one of the more complete approaches out there that’s also minimally viable and not heavy intentionally. I’m biased probably, but to me they’re, they’re some of the best courses out there.

[00:57:34] Brad Nelson: And, uh, I don’t think we’ve publicly shared it yet, but, Ken, you created a discount for our listeners.

[00:57:42] Ken Rickard: Yeah.

[00:57:43] Brad Nelson: So… Agile for Agilists

[00:57:45] Ken Rickard: Yeah. All uppercase. Yeah. uppercase.

[00:57:47] I’m having to remember. Yes, I did that. You’re correct.

[00:57:51] Brad Nelson: Insight. com slash events are all the events, and then if you look for IC Agile or Lean Change

[00:57:59] Management within those events or look for Ken Rickard.

[00:58:02] So,

[00:58:03] sign up for one of Ken’s classes at a discount.

[00:58:06] Drew Podwal: assuming the 20 means you’re going to get

[00:58:08] Ken Rickard: 20

[00:58:09] percent off. Yeah. 20 percent off. Yeah.

[00:58:11] Drew Podwal: That’s a, yeah, that’s great.

[00:58:16] Brad Nelson: It’s a great deal. I was like, hey Ken, are you interested in giving us 10 percent off? And he was like, how about 20?

[00:58:22] He’s a big

[00:58:22] Ken Rickard: I’ll I’ll negotiate to 25 if you want. 30? Do I hear 30?

[00:58:32] Drew Podwal: I think we’ve got a great episode.

[00:58:35] Brad Nelson: Yeah, so I’m just going to add people in glass houses sink ships because I’ve already messed up so many quotes today. I just got thrown another one out there.

[00:58:44] Ken Rickard: did you just combine

[00:58:46] two separate

[00:58:46] quotes?

[00:58:46] Brad Nelson: It’s from a Boondock

[00:58:49] Drew Podwal: I was singing, you can’t always get what you want by the Rolling Stones wrong up until like a couple of months ago. Sarah looked over at me and she was like, wait, what did you just say? And, uh, I think I was saying, uh, but if you try sometimes you get what you can. and I think it’s, And she’s like, say that out loud to yourself. Does that make sense?

[00:59:15] Ken Rickard: Yeah, interesting. Oh man.

[00:59:20] Brad Nelson: That happens. I’m sure I’ve done. I’m sure I still do that with many songs.

[00:59:23] Drew Podwal: Yeah,

[00:59:24] Brad Nelson: Well, thanks for joining

[00:59:25] Ken Rickard: Yeah, thanks for having me. Uh, I feel like this wound up being shoot the shit with Ken anyway. In a way.

[00:59:32] Drew Podwal: No. We had, we had A topic dialed in and I feel like we kept anchored to it pretty well.

[00:59:37] Ken Rickard: Yeah.

[00:59:39] Brad Nelson: Yeah,

[00:59:39] I still think it was good

[00:59:40] Ken Rickard: Yeah.

[00:59:41] Drew Podwal: I do too.

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