Fortunately, this has been my business model for a few years already, so I might have some pointers that could help you get going.
|Your most precious asset - the coaching journal.|
First things first: Remote Agile Coaching is much more difficult than on-site coaching, and can throw you into an existential crisis. I have spoken to many Scrum Masters who felt this was "just not for them", and I won't claim that it's the same thing. It's oftentimes less effective, more frustrating and less gratifying than working with a team face to face. Yet, when it's the only option - you've got to make the most of it!
Remote Development is still fairly easy compared to Remote Coaching: while a Developer has a clearly defined code objective and the work they do happens entirely within their IDE, the CD pipeline and on servers - whereas the coach relies on human interactions and thinking processes. These are often entirely invisible in distributed teams.
There are a number of key elements to your success in Remote Coaching. To keep this article at least somewhat concise, I will focus on only two aspects:
- Coaching Agenda
- Execution Signals
Disclaimer: This article is not an introduction to Agile Coaching. It's mostly concerned with the key factors of successful Remote Coaching. Therefore, important aspects of Agile Coaching may not be covered.
Coaching AgendaIt's quite easy for colocated coaches and/or Scrum Masters to work successfully in a sense-and-respond mode, i.e. simply be there for your coachees, observe their actions and use spontaneous communication to trigger reflection and change.
The same is not true for Remote Coaches, who are limited both in senses and responses - the value proposition is more in the line of triggering "the big hitting changes". And since you can't push change, you need to figure out what people need. This can't be done ad hoc, so you need an agenda.
To begin with the Obvious, it's not sufficient to facilitate the Agile Events (Planning, Daily, Review, Retrospective, I+A, PIP) - you'll be entirely ineffective if this is the only thing you do! You need many other things, and you need them without infringing on the work of your team(s). And that's the challenge: You must enhance the team's ability without infringing on their capacity.
Providing methodsAs an agile coach, part of your competency is providing effective methods. And since you don't have full real-time interaction, you need both a plan and the means to roll methods out.
So, here are some things you need:
- Start with a delta assessment on what's missing and create an overview of the required methods that would be needed by the client.
- Arrange the necessary items in a method introduction backlog. Put it into a digital backlog tool and let your client prioritize it (not just once, but all the time!)
- Ensure you have the right technological means to make the methods available. If you need, for example, an Online Retro tool, you'll have to at least come up with a first option, because when the client doesn't know the method you're talking about, they are not yet in a position to make a choice which tool to use!
- Some tools do not support the method you're using, so you either need to adapt your method to the tool or find a better tool. Still, avoid introducing a zoo of "Agile tools" - you'll never find your information afterwards! (Therefore, it pays to know what's still in the backlog so that you're not reverting last week's choice every week!)
- Keep privacy and security constraints in mind. You can't use just any Cloud Platform and put confidential information there!
- Remember organizational standards: While team autonomy is a great thing, it's terrible for the company if 12 different teams use 15 different delivery platforms: You may need to align certain tools with other parts of the organization.
Speed of ChangeProbably the biggest mistake I have made in the past: since you're sitting remotely, you may not understand how time-consuming other activities in the organization are. This can lead to not respecting your coachees' ability to process change. What may feel terribly slow for you as a coach may be all they can stomach, and what's the right speed for you as a coach may overburden them, because their daily business is so time-consuming. As a coach, it's important that you set back your own feelings in this regard.
So, here are some specific tips:
- Figure out what the "right" rate of change for your client is.
- If that means you'll only have one change-related coaching session per month, don't push for more.
- Instead, if your time on that topic is so limited, spend more time preparing to maximize the value of the session.
- Create a timeline of what changes will happen when, and align with the client.
- It's significantly better to do one high-impact change than ten low-impact changes, because that puts less stress on the client's organization.
Meta-methodsNot all coaching methods that you'd use face to face are effective in a remote setting, and your have a less effective feedback loop. The time between applying a method and discovering the outcome increases, as does the risk of misinterpretation.
Some methods tend to be much more effective in remote coaching than others, though, and here are my favorites that you should definitely at least try:
- Journaling. Keep a journal, and reflect on it at frequent intervals.
- Canvases. To structure communication, experiment with canvases both during sessions and as prep work.
- Screenwriting. It can have a massive impact on your coachee's reflection if you do nothing other than write on the screen the (key) words they're speaking. The upgrade is screen sketchnoting, but that's ... advanced.
HomeworkIn remote coaching, you have to work a lot with "homework" - both prepping and follow-up. This is equally true for both you and your coachee. Make sure that right from the beginning, you have a Coaching agreements that ensure the coachees will be diligent on their homework, so that you get maximum value out of each session.
One such coaching agreement could include, for example, that it's no problem to cancel or postpone a session if homework wasn't done.
Typical homework assignments for the coachee can include:
- Trying out something discussed during coaching
- Reflecting on certain outcomes
- Gathering certain information to make a more informed decision next time
- Filling a canvas (see above)
This is where the meta-methods come into play again: as a coach, you'll need to remember what homework was agreed during the coaching session. You should have another agreement that it's not yours, but the coachee's responsibility, to track and follow up on this homework. Still, you need to keep track if the coachee does this to remind the coachee if an important point slipped their mind.
Execution SignalsA remote coach is both limited in observation and interaction, it's much harder. You're losing out on a lot of the subtle nuances of (especially non-verbal) communication going on.
Since people are busy with other things, and you don't want to interrupt your coachees at inconvenient times or with distracting questions,you need to collect your information:
Pull coachingA big issue I had in the past is that nobody pulled coaching, despite a Working Agreement that people would contact me if they felt the need. This rendered me ineffective and worthless to the client! It happens, for example, when people are unaware of what the coach can do for them, or feel they're inconveniencing the coach.
- Make sure people send you frequent signals, or ask why this is not happening.
- People have understand where they can pull in coaching - discuss the intent and purpose of coaching.
- When people are overburdened, coaching is the first thing they drop. Have that conversation when it happens!
ExceptionsHow do you know that something is going well or requires attention?
The general idea is that you can trust the team that things are going well until they inform you otherwise! This should be clarified in a Working Agreement!
- You have to expect that you coachees may have blind spots and don't know when something isn't going well. So, you need access to further sources of information.
- The ticket system, for example, is often a great source of information for the usual problem hotspots: overload, overcommitment, overburden, delays, impediments - whatever.
- Ensure you're not monitoring the team or their work, but their ongoing success!
Outside-InsHow do you deliver outside-ins? In Remote Coaching, there is a lot of asynchronous communication that you need to bring together. For example, in your work with the coachees' stakeholders (e.g., management, users) you learn things that the coachees would need to be aware of.
This requires both a communication strategy and frequent synchronization points, so that you're not interrupting or shooting out the message with unintended consequences.
(A specific learning - simply posting something in the team's chat channel that you could have mentioned in the team's physical office without problems can start a wildfire, so you need to choose words wisely lest your "coaching" becomes more of a distraction than a help.)
ConclusionsIf this is your first time Remote Coaching, you may be overwhelmed by this article, and yes - it does take time, thought and preparation to get going.
Sitting back and reflecting on your colocated coaching experience is a great way to get started.
If you have any questions, reach out to me. My contact information is in the Imprint.