“PUSH” to “PULL” Agile Coaches; a Plan for Success

Article Agile

As an Agile coach, gradually moving from  a “PUSH” to a “PULL” model guarantees healthy change within an organization.  

INTRODUCTION

One of the worst experiences as a coach is when you receive an assignment and nobody really wants you there. Years of this behavior will teach you the hostility has nothing to do with your level of expertise or even your ability to connect with people and as such, to not take it personally. It has to do with a variety of factors; the “PUSH” vs “PULL” models, who is sponsoring the engagement, and finally the communication that happens upon the beginning of the coach's employment.

“PUSH” vs “PULL”

Over the years I have found that the importance of recognizing the differences between the “PUSH” vs “PULL” models is something than cannot be overlooked.

The “PULL” model is when an Agile Coach is requested and subsequently pulled in. Instant buy-in occurs when team members, engineering managers, directors and VPs are in a position to either request an Agile Coach or hire one themselves. They initiated the engagement, discussed success criteria and what they would like the coach to focus on, and are prepared to do what is needed to be open about the pain points.

In contrast, when there is a separate organization, Agile or PMO, that is partnering with other business units and is overseeing the supply and demand of Agile Coaches, we get a “PUSH” model. A coach who is “pushed” or assigned to a business unit or a team is more often than not perceived as a nuisance due to the team’s original inability to see the need for assistance. I have to admit, the “PUSH” model generally makes the job a lot more difficult and often results in a longer delay until progress is made.

Although a “PULL” model is objectively healthier, and helps with resistance to change, it is possible to ease the pain of a “PUSH” model by having good communication from the get-go, as well as by demonstrating empathy towards the people who may be resisting the implementation of a coach. They are the customers and thus it is important to understand them, and their needs, in order to serve them better.

When a separate organization is overseeing the supply and demand of Agile coaches, we get a “PUSH” model. Alternatively, the “PULL” model is when an Agile coach is directly requested and subsequently pulled in.

MOVING FROM A “PUSH” TO A “PULL” MODEL

Placing a coach in the part of the organization that already rewards things like asking for help is key to the beginning of a successful integration and engagement. Starting in a place with a growth mindset makes you more likely to triumph, and having success stories within an organization often catches like wild fire. Requests for help from other teams and business units will start pouring in. By being a bit more patient, it is possible to gradually move from the initial “PUSH” model to a “PULL” one; consequently guaranteeing healthy change.  

WHY THE SPONSOR MATTERS

Many companies are making the move towards a more flat organization, however others still operate on a hierarchy. It is important to keep in mind the kind of environment the engagement takes place in, and who the sponsor is, in order to bring in the right person for the job. For example; if an Engineering Manager brings someone in, but there is absolutely no buy-in on the VP level, chances are the coach will only be able to help so much.

When a coach starts working with an assigned team but quickly realizes that none of their actions will make a difference unless bigger issues are addressed, that is when it becomes important for them to be able to bring it up to executives as an organizational impediment. Determining the expectations of high level executives and defining what success looks like upfront are major factors in the eventual successful outcome of the engagement.

THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNICATION

A clear communication plan is vital to any engagement regardless of who the sponsor may be. It is also important to understand the dynamic of the company overall. In order to get ahead, ask yourself the following questions upon the acceptance of any new placement. Is it common to ask for help, or is it considered a sign of weakness? Do people freely share their pain points and bring up impediments, or there is a fear of repercussions?

Arriving on the first day knowing that there was communication sent out to all levels of the organization explaining which pain points the Agile Coach will be addressing and how they are involved is crucial. Defining clear outcomes and achieving alignment with all parties involved will certainly make a difference between a successful engagement and the kind where all involved look forward to its end.

CONCLUSION

Coaches arrive to an engagement either by the “PUSH” or the “PULL” model, however ultimately the success of the coach is determined both by their ability to bring the team into a mature agile environment, and by the completion of the project. Use the tips and knowledge provided in this article to help you achieve success in your next engagement.