Nov. 3, 2011

Awesome Coach of the Week: Ralf Kruse

We honour Ralf Kruse as Awesome Coach of the Week 44, 2011!

My first pair-coaching endeavour with Ralf was arguably the toughest setting I’ve ever been in for an agile transition. We started training teams who had basically been told by their management that all the specialisation they had accumulated over decades would be unneeded in their bright future, using Scrum... And this was an engineering company producing mechanically and electronically complex and innovative goods for a challenging small market. The setup couldn’t have been worse, and within a few days Ralf and I developed this image of standing back to back, shielding each other from the mud we were standing in and that was increasingly flying around us. A good setting to get to know each other quite quickly!


The most valuable skill we employed right from the start—and I quickly learned to depend on Ralf’s endless supply—was frankness. We had to be dead honest about the dysfunctional setup to any person we talked to. Ralf has a skill to be quite blunt without being impolite or unfriendly. This quickly earned us trust from the teams, as we didn’t beat about the bush, but from management as well. They quickly saw that our open way of communication was far better suited to the situation than the political talk that everybody was used to.

An important supporting factor to Ralf’s bluntness is his ability to quickly assess a situation and the personalities in a room, and to abstract his observation with a few words getting everyone present on the same page (reluctantly, sometimes...). Where appropriate, he spices his comments with a bit of dry humour, which can make such insights more easily digestible.

Ralf Happy

Get to the Root Problem

Ralf not only identifies situations and problems quickly, he also sticks with them until the discussion gets to the bottom of it. His personality helps with that, as he displays his understanding in a way that often astonishes people. I asked a good friend, who met Ralf at the Play4Agile and other unconferences for her impression of Ralf. This is what she said: “At first sight, Ralf is a calm and quiet person. He listens before he joins a conversation, getting his bearings. But when he speaks up, he surprises you with insights that you didn’t expect, and a deepness of understanding that can bring the conversation to a new level, easily focussing on the core of the problem.” And the good thing is, he sticks to that topic, keeping the group off deviations until we reach a common understanding of not only the problem at hand, but also possible first steps towards a solution.


Starting this fall, Ralf is giving an introductory course on Agile Software Development at the university he attended himself a while ago... Inspiring academical education with his experience from the field. He’s writing a series of blog posts on this topic.

Table full of Lego (image by Ralf)

I like this for various reasons:

Students of computer science hear about agile at university, but they seldom if ever get the chance to actually experience what it means. Agile can’t be learned from a book, you have to experience the new way of thinking and working to actually understand it. Ralf’s course is very interactive, playful, and includes topics like agile/lean leadership as well as continuous integration and other technical practices.

He brings his game development skills to the table as well: the new agile42 Kanban Pizza Game which Ralf and Franz developed for our Kanban trainings, as well as the Lego City Scrum Game, the Marshmallow Challenge and other thought-inspiring playful approaches make up a central part of his course.

The most important reason is Ralf’s holistic approach. He does not only cover the bits and pieces, but puts everything in a big picture, a full context. Top to bottom, start to end, leading to increased understanding of the full agile/lean mindset and lifecycle. This approach not only applies to this course, but also to the way Ralf trains and coaches—leading to sustaining effects and long-lasting change.

Awesome Coach of the Week

This is why we honour Ralf as an awesome coach. I’m proud to be able to work with such an inspiring person. If you can add an awesome experience with Ralf, please do so in the comments. We honour one Coach a week. Suggestions welcome!


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