FlowchainSensei, Deming and the Coach’s Role

Bob Marshall, the FlowchainSensei, has written another interesting post today. Not that this is surprising as I really like his blog a lot, but this one title contains two cherished words to me: Coaching and Deming.

Thanks Bob, for bringing Deming to the conversation about coaching. His work changed and it is still changing how I see mine. I can understand how revolutionary (even weird) it was to the Japanese leaders that were listening to him decades ago. It still is.

Let me try to define how I see Agile coaching: helping teams, the individuals that form them and the organizations and individuals that interact with them to improve the system we form altogether so we can stay in business longer and produce better results for all involved.

It’s admittedly still green and the idea is not new at all. The simplest proof is there have been a number of ways to refer to the changes required in the system beyond the team’s autonomy, like <em>organizational impediments</em>. I am trying to articulate it well and let it drive my work as a coach.
A practical implication of this mindset when coaching is that I ask teams not to focus on improving the personal 5% span of influence, or even the team’s x%, but looking at the overall system we form, identify the factor with the biggest impact on our work (it may be impacting the value we can produce, our capability to produce or our wellness as teams or individuals). Once identified, we should establish a theory on how that factor works, i.e. how it influences the overall system. Then we put it to test on some small experiments and see if we can improve the overall state of our system. If the theory doesn’t stay… well, you know the method.

As already mentioned by Bob in his answer to a comment, the coach is one more part of the system and as such it can not be isolated from it when establishing a working theory. We are part of the system we want to improve and that is just one more rationale not to buy the metaphor of an engineer improving an external process. A more organic metaphor may be more useful, such as a network of relationships (i.e. a family) in which you are one of the parties. If you want to help your family, or marriage, or team improve you have to keep in mind you are still an interested party.