Struggling with Distributed Agile

In this session, I asked for what struggles people were having. You’ll see those on the first flipchart and we numbered them.

Then, I told the group that one of my biggest lessons was that I had to let go of the practices I knew and had to go back to principles. This is also stated in the book Johanna Rothman and I wrote.

With that idea in mind of principles that still apply in distributed agile, I asked the group to capture some principles (and generic practices) on sticky notes. We then talked about some of the possible ways it would suggest adapting practices or suggest new ones. We started to add numbers to represent the struggles that could be overcome by these principles.

We ran out of time, but I committed to the group that I would blog on these over the coming weeks (also in the commitment garden).

Mark Kilby distributed agile coach, mentor, writer, community (re)builder of: / /
Agile Alliance Community Group Support Initiative / /

Best ways to reach me – Twitter @mkilby / LinkedIn /
Find out about my current work through my blog and newsletter at

Business Agility – the challenge of converting Projects to Products #noprojects and #whenprojects

Most large transformations struggle to figure out how to reorganize themselves. Existing technology-specific teams should likely be dismantled and reformed into cross-functional, customer/solution centric durable product teams. We talked about how one healthy behavior is to have a top-down lead strategy to identify the organization’s customer journey and big picture value stream, then identify the products that align under each stage of the value stream. We also discussed how there will absolutely be a long period of time where both waterfall or older style projects going in parallel to newly formed product teams. Part of the struggle is identifying when to still use a project construct due to budgeting or other constraints vs when to embrace the product-centric durable team approach.

Much of the challenge associated with the switch from projects to products is related to the financial strategies and budgeting constraints. A focus on portfolio management can help ease that transition. Using a centralized approval process for all new product and product ideas can help. Drawn above is a concept that can help encourage a culture of experimentation and avoid the big funding up front strategies that most organizations still use. Fund hypotheses instead for new ideas. Maybe even dedicate teams to exploring these prototypes to prove or disprove whether the project or product idea is viable and solves the customer related outcomes as intended. New product ideas need to be farmed out to available teams while big new product features make sense to be added to existing team backlogs (and whether new, big product feature ideas need to be approved or not before allowing teams to pursue is clearly a cultural thing).

Agile vs. Coach

This session explored the inner tension for agile coaches identified through exploratory research between “coach as agile expert” and “coach as curious enabler”.

The full transcript is available here:

Here are some snippets:

ME: … the big themes that I thought were really interesting was this tension between “I’m an expert. The reason you hired me is ’cause I have have the agile expert badge. I have to wear this agile expert badge and I have to know everything. At the same time, I’m trying to be a coach.” And so people like me who come from coaching, initially, the whole point about coaches, we have no idea about your world. We’re coming in to be curious and to not know. And so, when we’re caught between those things, what happens is inner conflict. What coaches talked about is really kind of these big internal conversations that were going on for them about how they manage those two things and how they manage that self-awareness and so on.

And similarly, they were caught between being professional in the way that the organisation they were working in expected them to be, and finally, that pulls away from their authentic selves. So I’m putting on some kind of show about what I think you want me to be like and that’s probably inauthentic.


1: Overall perception and high degree of tension especially in agile context with, who am I? What’s my role, what’s my identity? What am I supposed to do? We introduce a certain amount of change when we show up and then people start questioning it. We start doubting.

2: And that’s hard. That’s very hard because… Sorry, I am shifted to like me, me, me, but that’s exactly something that I’m facing professionally because I’ll add the layer that I’m also in a consulting industry, and so I have multiple clients because not only do I… And I’m embedded on a project on top of… So you’re the agile coach for this project to a client, but I have two clients, one’s external who has hired our firm to take care of business, one is the internal project where we’re like, “This coach has to become more agile,” but you’re also part of the team, so you have to be actively implementing the processes, and standing up governance and… It’s becoming a problem for me, professionally, at my organization, ’cause the organization does not allow… Does not identify or even have lanes for either of these roles. Because the focus in on delivery, and so there’s not something where I can promote to executive position as an agile coach at my firm. No. Although I’m providing a value to multiple tiers of customers. So, I don’t… What you’ve said has hit right here, bud. [chuckle] Because I have no idea where to go from here. So it’s an interesting… But it’s very interesting though, because you never know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. Well, alright, we’re at it and see what happens. But it’s a goofy place. It’s a challenge.

3: I’m in a similar position. Actually, the professional versus authentic is something I spoke to my mentor about recently. The way that people perceive me is different than the way that I actually am quite often, quite often. And there’s an insecurity that comes up from that because I’m putting on a front or a face that isn’t real to who I am. I’m an experimenter and a researcher and yeah, I think of ideas and I wanna come up with some solutions, but I can’t do it on my own. And often they look to me to find the solution for them and I’m like “No, no, no, no, no, that’s not at all.” But they’re like “But we’re paying to drive the change, to drive the change.” I’m like “No, there’s no such thing as a change driver.” [laughter] There’s a change agent and that’s just means that we come in and we help people see things differently. But you know what I’m seeing them differently as I’m helping them see it differently too. Often my own perspective can change as a result of my exposure to that system, but I don’t want it to change so much that I can’t continue to be an agent of change. So it’s, for me, I’m struggling with all of this and I tend to wanna align like say “I am a practitioner not a coach.” But I think I need to do both, I think I need to be both, and I think I am both. But I’m just more comfortable with the putting on the face and being that expert.

4: To be quite honest, nobody really understands what an agile coach is in the company that I’m working for. They really don’t get what it is. And to see on paper what it is versus what I’m actually doing, not necessarily the same. I don’t know, I’m struggling … That’s why I’m here. ‘Cause I don’t know, I just have no clue. [And are you okay being here and not getting any answers, but just sharing the struggle? ] Sometimes that’s all I need, is to say… “This is what I’m struggling with”.

5: I just started at a new organization where I’m only… I’m the first agile coach. It’s a startup. And so, people have been coming to me and saying, essentially, “Here’s our process, here’s what we’re doing. Is this agile enough? Should we change it, if so how should we can change it?” And I don’t have context, I don’t know the people, I don’t answer the question. I just ask more questions. Usually they get somewhere, it may not be where they thought they were gonna go. And then they say to me “Well do you think that’s right? Okay, so I think this might be right. Do you think that’s right?” … it’s not gonna make everything work. And so I just say “Well it’s an experiment worth trying. Let’s… Why don’t you try that and see how it goes? And maybe think about ways you can measure whether or not it’s working.” And then you… “Or maybe talk to your team about it, see how they feel about it.” Or something like that. I feel like I’m… And then they’re like, “Oh thank you so much.” I’m like “I didn’t do anything, really, I didn’t answer any of you questions.

6: No. The expert versus not knowing, I think I’ve heard a couple people say it. Asking questions. Okay maybe I’m the expert but you’re… I need to get you thinking about the right way to do it so I do that by asking questions. And sometimes I don’t know the answer to what they’re trying to get to, and asking questions is the best way to get there.

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