Recently I was asked for suggestions on how to go about growing a team of agile coaches within a coaching practice – knowing that sometimes communication is more effective using metaphors, I thought for a moment and came up with something that seemed to “resonate” – what do you think?
My idea was to channel your inner rock star (we all have one) and think about setting up an agile coaching practice as if it was a good “self-managing” rock band. We all know that a good band needs a lead singer (since that’s who everyone wants to listen to); however, if all you have is a lead singer (a single agile jedi), you’ll have one voice with nothing else to back them up which doesn’t make for a musically diverse experience. Next round out the band with some instrumentalists (guitar, bass, drums, horns – other coaches) and maybe even some back-up vocalists (newer coaches being mentored by more experienced members of the band). Realize that each member of the band has a special mix of skills (the instrument/skill they have learned – agile examples: pattern based refactoring, single-team focus, enterprise-focus, executive-focus, CI, TDD, PMP, ITPM, SAFe, story mapping, lean, kanban, metrics, probabilistic forecasting, facilitation, games, etc), but moreover each band member has a common set of knowledge and understanding that enables them to work together – the band members may (or may not) know how to read music, but alas they have a general understanding of how their songs go (agile principles and values), and have an agreed upon goal to perform, so they can put on a performance – in “agile” lexicon, shall we call them T-shaped people.
Now we get to the fun part of the metaphor, which has caused countless “epic rock band blowouts” throughout history for which VH-1 has made countless episodes of “Behind the Music” – who is in charge? When a rock band performs, it doesn’t have a conductor out in front telling everyone what to do as a symphony orchestra does – the band just seems to figure it out, or rather self-directs. For a rock band to endure, the band members need to figure out how to effectively “self-govern”, learn how to resolve conflicts and differences of opinion between members that are sure to occur, and work towards an agreed upon goal of giving solid performances with some level of consistency. None of the band members out rank each other – when it is necessary to make decisions, the band members talk things through and come to consensus leveraging the different viewpoints and experiences within the group. Good bands also properly leverage the musical skills and abilities of their members to create a unique and defining sound. If every song had a guitar solo and only a guitar solo with no other band members being featured, the audience might become tired of that, and you can imagine there might be a little bit of conflict back in the dressing room. Good rock bands know how to feature each of their members when the time is right because they each bring something unique to the band, so as to deliver diverse and dynamic performances. And let’s not forget that the lead singer can’t sing “All Night Long” (unless they are named Lionel Richie), so there are times when the lead singer leaves the stage (to change wardrobe and visit the roadies) and lets the instrumentalists jam trusting that they won’t send the audience away.
A final role needed to best ensure the band’s success from a business perspective is “a band manager”. Let’s face it, most rock band performers are focused on how to improve their performances and want to spend their time singing or playing (new songs / new riffs / playing gigs) – if the band has to organize their own tour, that will take time away from their ability to create, innovative, improve and most importantly perform. Hence the band manager handles the business of booking the tour and working to identify venues and audiences to which the band’s music meets or exceeds audience expectations. The band manager helps the band maintain a proper balance of time on the road for gigs, and also time for off-the-road rehearsal and composing new music. Most importantly, the band manager keeps the band in the spotlight where their talents are recognized and have impact, vs. just allowing the band to jam in the garage which although is great fun for the band members, it doesn’t necessarily allow others to benefit from hearing the band’s music.
That’s my idea – anyone wanna jam?