Yellow Brick Road

“The Man Behind the Curtain” – Mentors and Their Role in an Agile Adoption

Whom Do you Seek? A major key to success of a sustainable agile transformation is finding the right

Whom Do you Seek?

A major key to success of a sustainable agile transformation is finding the right person or persons to lead the transformation. This person(s) need great prior experience at the Enterprise level coaching and mentoring as a ‘Sherpa guide” through the difficulties of an Enterprise wide agile transformation. This is an “OZish” view of the behind the scenes of how an agile adoption can proceed, leadership and its role and the case for the “determined person”.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road…

I often ask people who their favorite character is in the movie “The Wizard of OZ”. Usually it is Dorothy or the Scarecrow. Those that answer Toto. I worry about. My answer is “I like the Man Behind the Curtain”. Here is the actual wizard working the flash and bang of the big show from a small side stage and he does not mean to be seen or heard (other than through his avatar).

Man behind curtain

Good mentors are like that. Good Enterprise Transformation Coaches are very much like that. They project leadership and strong qualities, and work the invisible pedals and levers of the Transformation within your organization. A great coach or mentor is always taking a back seat to the Employee who leads the Transformation. Even though they may be for this one topic of Transformations “the smartest person in the room” they don’t act it. They work at drawing out people, providing behind the scenes coaching, salting the conversation with ideas that others can latch onto as their own.

If required, they have the strength of character and leadership capabilities to take charge, but as a least acceptable solution. The Enterprise Coach should get their sponsor and lead to step up to the role of leading the Transformation.

What Comprises a Set of Skills?

Defining the Enterprise Agile Transformation Coach role is a mix of:

  • Communicator (up and down the whole chain of command)
  • Agile experience and practices
  • Enterprise Transformation experience
  • Technology savvy across multiple knowledge domains
  • Business experience and savvy to connect with non-IT types
  • Exposure and experience across the IT organization

Basically, someone who has been there done that, built and burned down the T-Shirt factory a few times. So they must have had experience with Enterprise Transformations before. There is no replacement for experience in this realm.

Most important they have a force of will to drive to get things done. Many years ago I read a paper on the concept of “The Determined Person”. The basis of the story was that The Determined person is someone who, despite what seem to be overwhelming odds manages to persist through the effort to its conclusion. Someone of strong conviction and faith that we can solve problems and overcome inertia of culture. This strength of will is coupled with persistence. This persistence of vision from Calvin Coolidge is my favorite quote of all times.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Do I Hire Someone Who is Certified?

Certifications are not a replacement for experience. I’ll take the seasoned veteran of the fight any time over someone with 5 certs on their resume. An interesting question to ask in an interview to sort out who is experienced is “So tell me about a major transformation failure and how did you get out of it?” An experienced coach will have interesting (and sometimes scary) stories for that one. (FYI, the more interesting part of the answer is how they got out of it).

TrekkersSomeone with little or no experience or who is too cautious to answer is likely not the kind of Mentor you are looking for. You want someone with wisdom, and unlike the catch phrase, “with age comes wisdom” it really should read with EXPERIENCE and failure comes wisdom.  Once you’ve had your metaphorical legs blown off by stepping on the various landmines strewn on the path to Transformation, you learn what a landmine is and how to avoid it. I want to follow that person.

These Coaches Are Really Expensive…

So I got one of these people lined up, now I can’t afford them. Yes, experience comes at a cost. The kinds of consulting we are discussing is expensive. Cheaping out just means you get what you pay for. Besides, transformations are cheaper with a good guide. Experienced coaches save you money by offering up, “I did this in three accounts, it worked in these two and failed here because… This kind of guidance can save lots of time, energy and money.

The value a Mentor brings is the experience and guidance to provide you with the capability to succeed. Just like climbers of Mount Everest hire Sherpas, you need to do the same.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned from our “Playing the Agile Transformation Game” Blog series. Did it answer some your questions? We’d love to hear from you…

And stay tuned for our upcoming blogs!

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