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From Fear to Feedback
How An Agile Coach Helped An Executive Give Honest Feedback
👋 Hey Friends
Hope you're all doing well!
I know it's been a little while since I posted a new video on YouTube, but I'm excited to announce that a new one is on the way! The topic will be "How to calculate Kanban WIP limits in 6 easy steps."
Also, I wanted to let you know that my website, www.vibhorchandel.com, is shaping up nicely!
I'll be publishing articles about Agile and career-related topics, as well as digital products like Coaching Cards for Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches.
There's some really cool stuff in the works, so make sure to stay tuned!
I hope you enjoy today’s story ⬇
Have a great week.
📜 Today’s Story
It was just another typical day for my friend Dan, sitting at his computer working on his stuff. Suddenly, his computer dings with a notification from Teams. It's the VP of Development, and she's reaching out with a concern. Dan reads her message and immediately senses the urgency in her words. She's struggling with how to give honest feedback during sprint demos without crushing team morale.
I hope you're doing well. I've been giving some thought to the feedback technique we use during our sprint demos, the fist of 5s. In all honesty, I've been finding it difficult to provide completely truthful feedback, as there have been instances where I've voted a 5, but my true thoughts were more along the lines of a 2.
I am afraid that my honesty can dampen their morale. I was wondering if we could discuss this further also I would greatly appreciate your assistance in conveying this feedback to the team on my behalf.
Speak to you soon.
VP of Development"
Dan responds to her message, offering to set up a 1:1 meeting as soon as possible. The VP agrees, and they book a meeting for the next available slot in Joanne’s calendar.
What follows is a conversation between Dan and Joanne, which is the meat of this story. Notice how Dan quickly but patiently convinces Joanne to deliver the feedback to the team herself, which is the right thing to do. I will break the conversation into steps so you can have a better understanding of what Dan did and, most importantly, “why” he did (or said) that.
Dan: Hey Joanne, I realize that you're feeling a bit unsure about giving honest feedback during demos. Tell me what's been on your mind.
Step#1 - Sense
Notice how Dan starts the conversation. Instead of saying, “How’s it going Joanne…” he straight comes to the point. It is important to understand that executives, especially VPs and above, are extremely busy and appreciate straightforward conversations.
Apart from being straightforward, Dan also confirmed the issue Joanne was facing and prompted her to explain the situation further by asking the powerful question, “What been on your mind?”
VP: Yeah, we use the Fist of 5 technique, but I sometimes feel like I'm just giving a 5 even when it's not a 5 at all in reality. I don't want to be too hard on them, but I also want to be honest.
Dan: I totally get it. And remember, demos and reviews are all about the team and stakeholders being able to talk openly about what’s acceptable and what’s not so the team could provide best value to the customer.
Step#2 - Analyze
Dan acknowledged that he understood the situation Joanne was going through.
Also, notice that Dan did not provide a solution right away. For Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters, it’s extremely important to practice patience and carefully analyze the situation.
VP: But I'm not sure how to give honest feedback without hurting the team's feelings.
Dan: One way to do it is by explaining your fist of 5 and focusing the explanation on the work and not the team members. Like, instead of saying, "you did this wrong," you could say, "I think this feature could have been developed differently," or "I think this process could have been improved." That way, it's all about the work, not the team.
VP: That makes sense.
Dan: Awesome! And don't forget, you should also point out what the team did well. Give some kudos too! Another thing you can do is use "I" statements like "I think" or "I believe" instead of "You" statements to make it more personal and less blaming.
Step#3 - Respond
Only after carefully analyzing the situation (both in Joanne’s words and her emotion behind those words) Dan proceeded with a “possible” solution and advice.
Notice that this is not a “coaching” conversation. In most cases, executives “consult” Agile Coaches for a possible solution to their problem. If you’re not sure, simply ask the executive.
VP: Got it. But I still feel a bit nervous, I think it would be better if you give the feedback to the team.
Dan: I totally get that, but as their executive leader, it's important for you to be the one to give the feedback. It shows that you're invested in the team's progress, and it helps you build trust and respect with the team.
Step#4 - Do the right thing and be assertive
Notice that Dan did not give in to Joanne’s request to deliver the feedback to the team on her behalf. He did what was “right.”
Doing what is right, especially in front of executives, can be a little difficult, but these are situations where courage is mostly rewarded.
Another thing to note here is that Dan did not say “no.” He explained why Joanne would be the right person to deliver feedback to her team. He used proper reasoning.
VP: I see your point. Alright, I'll give it a shot and give the feedback myself.
Dan: That's the spirit! And remember, it's all about creating an open and honest culture within the team, and that starts with you as the leader. And as always, I'm here to help you practice and prepare for the feedback.
VP: That sounds great.
Step#5 - Offer further help
Dan closed the conversation by appreciating Joanne and extending a helping hand in case she needed his help to prepare for delivering the feedback to the team the right way.
End of story…
📌 Things I loved this Week
1 - Audiobook - I've been listening to 9 lies about work this week, and it's been an incredible "read" I would 100% recommend it to anyone who's leading a team in any capacity, and it's really been helping me on this journey.
2 - Podcast - Listening to episode #1309 of The Joe Rogan Experience with Naval Ravikant.
✍️ Quote of the Week
"If it entertains you now but will bore you someday, it’s a distraction. Keep looking."