Yikes, it’s been over a year since I had a chance to update TheAgileFactor – thanks to all those who sent out search parties to find me, thinking that something went awfully wrong during the “Office Hours” experiment.
That said, “Agile Office Hours” was a great experiment that provided value and generated some learnings for which I wanted to share the outcomes.
Did “office hours” work?
YES – multiple people showed up, they all asked questions, and shared that the information shared did provide value – a few even came back for multiple sessions.
I also received questions from those who were not able to attend inquiring what topics were discussed. This served as evidence that there was interest in the discussion & learning beyond those who were able to attend. Also since posting the experiment, I’ve heard from a few other agile coaches that they have successfully done this (specifically Richard Kasperowski – www.kasperowski.com – who with me is volunteering to organize the AgileGames 2015 conference in Boston – www.agilegamesnewengland.com). I also found out that many organizations that have an agile office (to support all their teams using agile methods) have adopted this strategy for ongoing support & coaching.
What was challenging
- Supply & Demand – much like in college, specific events seemed to trigger an increase in the demand for agile office hours (think about people waiting to go get help until just before the exam) – some implementation challenges were experienced as people would show up for office hours wanting to ask a specific question, but then would end up having to wait until their question came up in the discussion queue – “Lean Coffee” was a great format to facilitate time-boxed coaching chats – questions / topics were collected from those present and then prioritized; however, this system can be challenging if you have a specific question and you need to listen to the rest of the topics for your turn to come up. Of course, this listening wasn’t always bad as people did report learning and getting ideas from the discussion while they were waiting for their turn.
- Sharing information from office hours with the whole-team – I experienced a trend where two or three team members would come to office hours with a question or puzzle specific to their team – we’d have a great discussion during office hours, but then that would setup a request to have a meeting / coaching session with their full team to relay the same information to everyone. A few people talked about bringing their entire team to office hours, but that never happened.
- People wanting a “magic pill” vs. guidance to enable their own learning & experiments – Most of the people that came office hours were looking for guidance or suggestions based upon specific challenges. This type of advice proved hard to provide since I didn’t have a strong knowledge of team activities, and / or metrics for most of the team’s requesting assistance. Rather I spent a lot of time helping teams to define experiments with indicators so as to measure their impact and effectiveness. Initially, there was some question about whether this type of information was useful, since it wasn’t prescriptive (aka: this is your problem, here’s what you should do); however, people that implemented experiments that were defined during office hours reported improvements and moreover also demonstrated the ability to define future experiments and indicators without the need to attend an office hours session.
If you’re a coach and you haven’t tried holding office hours, definitely give it a try – you will most certainly get questions, challenges and puzzles that will make you think – the challenge is not responding by telling teams/people what to do but rather giving them advice so they are empowered to learn and identify what works best within their context.
I would recommend complementing face-to-face sessions with the ability to provide assistance online as well. Myself and several colleagues had good luck experimenting with an internal IRC/chat channel for “agility” to improve our office hours offering – my organization did this using Slack (www.slack.com) or you could use a tool like Basecamp and just create a “coaching” project that everyone is on (www.basecamp.com). The chat channel allowed for people to ask questions and share ideas outside of office hours. Quick questions could be addressed online immediately, and face-to-face sessions could be scheduled for more in-depth discussions with the correct people. Perhaps most important, responses in the chat channel helped to identify others interested in coaching (since everyone was empowered to share ideas and suggestions based on needs / questions posted) and all information was transparent making the channel a good place to search for recent references on agile topics vs. having to track down an agile coach. The online channel also made coaching help available to those working in different locations.