Uncovering Coaching Stories

I started coaching a new team recently. Before taking on the role I went through a useful exercise to “uncover the coaching stories”*. The aim is to understand why a potential customer thinks that they need a coach (or more usually, why they think that they need an Agile process because they want a coach to help them introduce it).
By exploring the answers to questions such as:

  • What is the problem?
  • How does the problem manifest itself?
  • Who wants a solution?
  • How will we know that the problem has been solved?
the customer and I start to get a feel for how difficult the engagment is, how much organisational support for change there is, and (crucially) whether we will be comfortable working together.
Although I find this useful I don't claim that it is a unique approach: Jerry Weinberg's consulting books were my original inspiration, and I heard from Andy Pols that Alistair Cockburn also interviews his prospective clients (in his case as a client selection process as well as an information gathering exercise).
Reflection:Would this approach work for you? How could you find out?

* Keith Braithwaite and I touched on coaching stories in a presentation we gave back in 2002. The basic idea is that customers have stories for a coach just as they have stories for a development team, although the scope and nature of coaching stories are typically very different from development stories.

The Consultants Calling: Bringing Who You Are To What You do

Geoffrey Bellman's book is superb, and deserves a wider audience than the title might suggest. It is “about consulting” in the same way that Shakespeare's Hamlet is “about Denmark”: the scenes are set in the world of consulting but the message is more widely applicable. The twenty or so chapters describe how work becomes more rewarding, and how we become more effective at doing it, when we treat it as a human activity (not a financial transaction), and one that reflects our own human needs, desires, and failings.
Congruence, integrity, love, fear, boundaries, power, money, and transformational change are all discussed in the context of organisations and the people who work in them. Reading it challenges us to look deeply at ourselves, to understand what we want from our work, and to consider whether we are bringing ourselves to what we do, or acting out a role.
It's not often that I write a review of something I've read (it's certainly been a long time since the last one!) but I found this book special and can strongly recommend it.


The recent Debian-based Linux distro Ubuntu has been getting good reviews. The name is an intriguing one: according to their home page "Ubuntu" is an ancient African word, meaning "humanity to others". Ubuntu also means "I am what I am because of who we all are". According to Linux User & Developer magazine Archibishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize laureate) said: A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
What is the relationship between software development and Ubuntu? Because I feel that software development is essentially a human activity I believe that having more Ubuntu in yourself increases your capacity to be an inspirational coach or mentor, and having more Ubuntu in your team increases your capacity to collaborate in creating great software. I'll be revisiting this theme in my next post: a review of Geoffrey Bellman's excellent book The Consultant's Calling: Bringing Who You Are to What You Do.