Coaching the WoW* factor

*(ways of working)

When it comes to ‘this thing of ours’ I have a handful of preoccupations that I find it hard to shake and it seems finding myself on the other side of the client/supplier relationship is just reinforcing that. I’ve already written a bit about my thoughts on ‘squads’ (and I’ll be returning to that soon). Now it is the turn of culture and ways of working.

As Mr Dalgarno wrote — agile is radically different than what came before and agile is just the tip of the iceberg if you really embrace the full ‘Digital Transformation Experience™’ — user-centric, service design, mobile first, devops, coding in the open, cloud. Hell even for somebody who lives and breathes this stuff it can be overwhelming at times.

For agile we regularly see ‘coaches’ brought in (for better or worse) to help teams get up to speed — they embed with the in-house squads and guide them through the journey to agile delivery. Sometimes this leads to a bit of a cargo cult situation where the rituals are undertaken with no deep understanding nor commitment to the underlying principles but this is often a symptom of a broader issue rather than the fault of the coach or the team.

Likewise increasingly there seems to be a trend of providing a ‘Digital Transformation Experience™’ ‘sheep dip’ to senior leadership so they have some concept of the world they are now operating in. Some organisations also have the sense to bring in people like Janet to help out at this level as well — coaching the c-suite if you like.

The Doteveryone work that Janet was involved in triggered a bit of a lightbulb for me last year and I’m only just getting around to exploring it.

For me the gap has always seemed to be around support for people who find themselves doing those roles that I have the most empathy for. Those Product/Service Managers who (in Gov land at least) often find themselves plucked from another business area and find themselves in a new world, with new responsibilities and, often, pressure to deliver.

I have to be honest I was initially uncomfortable with the model of pulling ‘product owners’ out from specialist teams (whether policy or delivery) but I have come to believe that the knowledge they often bring of their users, of the business processes, of the people involved (and the politics to be fair) is invaluable and is hard earned over time. This is the sort of thing that you can’t just pick up — and the reason that I think the kind of ‘product management as a service’ model I guess I assumed I would do on this side of the table is so bloody hard. 100% the ONS project I worked on would have been better for the inclusion of a statistican as a fulltime, embedded part of the team from the start.

Now I don’t think I’d want to work on a project without this kind of role.

Part of the reason for this is I do think though that the kind of knowledge you need to succeed in understanding these modern ways of working that make ‘this thing of ours’ really work can be coached with the right support. It isn’t about getting someone Scrum Certified (bleurrggh) but rather working with them to embed some of the lessons learned elsewhere, introducing them to the broader network, providing them with precedents to take to their leadership when challenged, giving them the confidence to take their own risks and to not slavishly follow any particular approach (as well as steering them around some of the obstacles and charlatans that inhabit this world as well.)

The Digital Academy already has a brilliant course aimed at Service Owners that works hard to develop a network around its ‘graduates’ so perhaps it is more ‘peer mentorship’ than ‘coaching’? In larger organisations where the Communities of Practices are mature and well supported perhaps the framework is already there but I just have this feeling that there is a gap there for some kind of light touch, consultative role could really help accelerate peoples understanding and in doing so move entire organisations forward one high performing team at a time.

For what it is worth I’d like to try 🙂

Anyway — we are on GCloud if anyone has a project where they thinking something like this might work (or anything else interesting really — give me a shout!).

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