The Agile Coach Has No Plan, and other tropes

by Angela 30. November 2017 17:45

About once a quarter, I come to a breaking point where I’ve dug myself into a commitment hole so deep I don’t see any way out other than working nights and weekend for a couple of weeks to get my head back above sea level. Ironic, given that I am an agile coach right? Ironic, and embarrassing. But what kind of coach and leader would I be to NOT share my failures, to show some humility, and then take action to improve? I decided I was done running, done being frantic and reactive, I needed a better way.

Now, there is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution for these kinds of things, but I just happen to work with George Evjen, one of our agile coaches down in St. Louis, and he shared with me what has worked for him. I share this because I am likely not alone, and maybe this will spark something in you.

I should back up and give you a little context. I am a Principal Consultant at Polaris and I not only actively juggle multiple clients, but I am responsible for sales and marketing, contributing to business strategy, managing client engagements and relationships, coaching and mentoring other employees, and I’m a Microsoft ALM MVP which comes with its own set of accountabilities like public speaking, blogging, and both organizing and speaking at tech conferences and user groups across the country. Oh, and I also mentor a couple of people outside of my company as well. For funzies. WHEW!

To say I wear many hats would be an understatement.


The way I manage all of that is, well, not terribly elegant or effective. I have backlogs in Nozbe (non-sales related work stuff), Pipedrive (sales related work stuff), and multiple VSTS instances (Polaris accountabilities and various client accountabilities). My email also serves as a backlog of sorts, as does OneNote, and my little yellow PacMan notebook that I use in business meetings where I collect even more things I am going to be accountable for. Long story short, I have about 8 different places I need to look at any given time to figure out what I should be doing every day. And this is just for work. THIS IS NOT AN EFFECTIVE LONG-TERM STRATEGY.

Back to George.

I decided to swallow my pride and ask for help from a coworker that seems to have this problem tackled. I showed George all 8 of my “backlogs” and he responded in a really unexpected way. He said “wow, all of those tools are really great. I wouldn’t stop using them”. I was expecting him to say “c’mon Angela, dump all of those tools, that’s a terrible strategy!” Instead, he pointed out that as I was using them, each one was really valuable in its own way. The flaw was that they didn’t allow me to effectively plan out what I needed to do each week or to visualize what I actually had capacity for. Hmm, so you’re saying I should be refining the (8) lists of things that people need from me onto a single, prioritized, and manageable sized list of things that I can confidently commit to in say, a week. I then need to really dig into planning just that week. BRILLIANT!  This is where I start blushing madly, because this is PRECISLEY what we coach our clients to do on a daily basis. This is like Agile 101.

If there was ever an appropriate time to user the old trope “the cobbler’s kids have no shoes”, this is it! I spend my career directing my clients to invest in planning, accountability, and transparency so that they can provide more value to their customers, avoid burnout of their employees, and build a culture where people feel like they can be successful and happy. But I was neglecting all of that when it came to my own career. I was burning out, and hindering my ability to provide value to the people I serve, which is what defines success and happiness for me.

This is not a sitcom, so alas I have no happy ending to show that I am now the master of my own career plan, not yet anyway. George gave me a few ToDo’s to get me moving in the right direction, and I’ll share those now, and provide an update when I’ve had a chance to internalize and execute on them for a while. I also setup a recurring coaching session with George so that he can help me to hold myself accountable, and do a mini-retro each week to see what worked and where we may need to improve upon my strategy.

My 3 big ToDos for the rest of this week are:

1) Identify all of the roles I fulfill on a daily basis, both at Polaris and in my personal life. I already color code these on my Outlook calendar so I can see where my biggest “investments are”, and I love this idea.

2) Start categorizing the things on my backlogs under my identified roles and prioritize them. It will help me figure out what to jettison or delegate when I can see I am going to be over-committed.

3) Invest in a planning cadence to cut through the noise and focus on what is important

a. Every Sunday night I am going to review all of my various backlog and identify the most important things for that upcoming week, let’s call it a “sprint”

b. Visualize everything I am committing to for the upcoming week on an actual physical thing – yes, another backlog, but now just the ONE. I am still investigating what this one place will be, and as I am really visual, this may literally be a paper day planner that I can have on me at all times

c. Each night I am going to review what I’ve accomplished that day, what new stuff came up during the day, and refine my plan for the next day as necessary

Wish me luck!


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