Coaching Beyond the Team

3 March 2011

Jim York
FoxHedge LTD

As an external coach, I am often brought in to teach a new team the Scrum framework and to personally coach the ScrumMaster, Product Owner and Scrum Development Team Members in their new roles. However, the coaching does not stop with the Scrum Team. Scrum does not limit its organizational impact to just the Scrum Team. Therefore, coaching must also extend beyond the team. To explore this extension, let’s look at an example of a traditional role often shaken up by the introduction of Scrum, the Resource Manager, and how coaching might impact this individual’s development path.

In organizations that use a matrix or pool for staffing, the Resource Manager allocates people to projects, while balancing capacity, availability, and demand. Resource Managers are often faced with more demand than supply. This imbalance results in the Resource Manager assigning individuals to 2 or more initiatives simultaneously. The pressure to spread people across multiple projects is increased further in organizations that reward high “utilization.” Since the individual projects start and stop on various dates, the Resource Manager has a busy job planning who is to be working on what projects at what time. The work is complex and the job thankless, but that is why the Resource Manager is paid the big bucks.

Enter Scrum. Scrum initiatives are often staffed with dedicated teams. In other words, the individuals on the core team are fully allocated to the team. If the Scrum adoption starts with a single pilot project, this dedicated team usually has a limited impact on the staffing pool and the project portfolio. Some other projects may be delayed and some people outside the Scrum pilot may take on more work — inconvenient, yes, but workable.

The problem for the Resource Manager arises when the pilot is successful and more initiatives are launched using Scrum. Each of these new efforts demands its own dedicated team. As the number of dedicated teams grows, the complexity of the Resource Manager’s high paying job dwindles to the point of becoming trivial. The role of Resource Manager as master of a staffing shell game is no more. The Resource Manager’s problem now is how to remain relevant to the organization.

For the Resource Manager, this shift can be scary. What does a Resource Manager do when the job becomes trivial? How long will the organization continue to pay big bucks for this job? At this point, the Resource Manager may be thinking only of how to preserve his or her job. The job of the coach is to help this individual work through this problem. For one Resource Manager, who we will call Paul, here is how the coaching process played out.

In a conversation with Paul, he revealed that he actually hated his job. Paul had been promoted into a management position only because he had hit the top of his pay scale and the organization was afraid that they might lose him to the competition. Paul’s real passion was in technology. He found no satisfaction in moving assignments around in a spreadsheet. Paul’s only contact with the technology now was from a distance. Dealing with the politics of too much demand for too little supply took most of his attention. The only part of the job Paul liked was getting to know the people in his staffing pool and helping them develop professionally.

With some encouragement, Paul described his ideal job. What he really wanted to do was to mentor technical employees and create a learning environment where employees could develop and share technical skills and knowledge. Paul wanted to combine his technical knowledge and his people skills to improve the technical competence of the entire organization by encouraging learning and sharing across teams.

Following our conversation, Paul proposed a new position to his manager. Noting that the creation of dedicated cross-functional teams had broken down the traditional organizational silos based on job function, he argued there was now a need for a position to support technical cohesion and collaboration across the organization. This new position would focus on individual and team professional development and organizational learning. The new role would be a sort of internal consultant who would ensure cross-pollination of technical ideas and competencies across teams. Ultimately, Paul got his new position and helped establish a new non-management promotion path for technical workers in his organization.

Paul was successful in figuring out how to navigate the changing organizational landscape. Coaching didn’t solve Paul’s problem. Rather, coaching helped Paul figure it out for himself.

It is easy to underestimate the seismic shift people throughout an organization experience as the development processes and underlying organizational structures react to changes made in response to Scrum’s inspect and adapt cycle. Paul, our Resource Manager, is but one example. People in leadership, portfolio management, operations, finance, customer support, audit, marketing, sales, and so forth all feel the impact. Coaching doesn’t stop at the Scrum Team boundary — organizational change requires coaching beyond the team.


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



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Comments

Alston Hodge, CSC,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 3/9/2011 11:14:55 AM
Nice article, Jim. I can appreciate your assessment of the challenges of coaching beyond the team. Another critical role I've seen is the executive champion (often the IT director) for Scrum adoption within an organization. Sometimes I see IT Directors who were formally architects or lead developers promoted to management because of their success in getting critical projects completed. And often they are not given any management/leadership training. So rather than empowering Scrum teams, sometimes they get too involved in the details, which leave teams dis-empowered. Coaching IT directors to let Scrum teams develop their own solutions rather than having it dictated from the IT director can sometimes be a challenge.

Part of the problem is the IT director was an exceptional architect or lead developer, but not comfortable (or trained) in their new role as a leader and manager.

Great article Jim.
Bent Myllerup, CST,CSC,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 3/13/2011 1:53:55 AM
Great article, Jim. Thank you for sharing your experience in this matter.
Brian Levy, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 6/4/2011 4:40:50 PM
Thank you for sharing this article. I have often relayed the effects of Scrum adoption to leadership before organizational transformations have taken place. It helps to be able to send this article to them before an engagement.
Juan Banda, CST,CSP,CSM,CSD,CSPO, 4/9/2012 4:06:43 PM
Nice article Jim, really helps to stress the point that coaching is not only touching teams but also the whole organization. The example that you provided about the Resource Manager finding his new role is something that I see and experiment myself.

Enterprise coaching is really needed for making Scrum transformation a lasting effect as well as helping people to discover their new role in their organizations.

Thanks again for sharing it.

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