Coaching and Producing


find and capture their emergent, common language. Sometimes this may happen by simply playing back someone's words in an effort to translate and transfer his message to someone else.

Whether I am facilitating a chartering session, helping to compose a product backlog, or working to get the technical house in order, I find a bit of preproduction always helps me start the important conversations that feed the iterative collaboration that needs to take place in the early iterations.

Early Iteration Themes
In the studio, cutting good backing tracks (the body of the songs) is essential to producing a great final product. As the band records and rerecords each song, they start building a groove (the term musicians use to describe the feeling of playing well together). Sometimes the groove grows organically, with limited intervention from the producer. Often times the producer needs to provide guidance to one or more players. Many times a fancy piece of gear (technology) is the groove killer, and needs to be removed, no matter how cool it is.

The early iterations are an important time for bonding and building healthy habits. Each iteration challenges the community to come together in a way that deliver working software and a healthy code base in a sustainable way. While some communities do this well, forming strong bonds early on with little intervention, others are in need of some coaching.

Like a music producer, the coach works with the community, possibly helping one member see another's perspective. Helping engineers understand the product vision while coaching them to deliver the product one story at a time is like guiding the production of a complete recording song by song. Here are four themes I brought from music production to agile coaching:

Theme 1: Helping People Learn
Many music producers are also great players. Yet, instead of stepping in and playing a part for a struggling musician, the producer draws on his skill and works to understand where and why the musician is struggling. The producer, who is listening and not immersed in playing, can provide clearer guidance and add inspirational perspectives.

Talking in Tests
Without a common definition of "done," you may find you are the software equivalent of the band whose music is never heard. When everyone is a tester, success is more likely. One way to grow testing is to get more people talking in testing.

For instance, I sometimes hear developers say that "stories do not contain enough detail." When I ask for examples, the answers are usually tests in disguise. Sometimes it is as simple as reframing their "details" into testable examples and then adding them as acceptance tests. Other times, I pair up a developer and a tester (or product owner) to help smoke out (define) the missing tests.

In a similar fashion, a coach stepping in to help does not take over. The best and most lasting discoveries are those found by the community. A skilled coach finds the right time to provide supportive words and or a gentle nudge. Sometimes coaching is providing guidance, while other times coaching involves letting a situation safely play out and helping the community learn from the experience.

Theme 2: Leading and Teaching
I produced several bands that went on to produce their own recordings. Some producers are hurt when this happens, but I always viewed it as a natural evolution and hoped my contributions had helped them feel confident to take the reins.

Like good producers, coaches often lead while teaching and teach while leading (and learn while teaching). While your coach may lead the early stand-up meetings

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