Oct. 23, 2015

Meet the Coach: Richard Dolman

In this interview, Agile Coach Richard Dolman shares the inspiration for doing what he does so well

Q:  Can you summarize for us your career path and how you came to be an Agile coach?

A:  I started my career as a developer and systems administrator and quickly moved into IT Management and eventually Operations Management.  I was blessed to have 2 true servant leaders as my bosses and mentors, and was exposed to a wide array of experiences and challenges during this time.  In addition to leading constant technology and process improvements as the company grew, I also got hands-on experience with project and people management, as well as mergers and acquisitions.

I moved into consulting and found myself on a new journey of constant challenges and problem solving. I loved going into a new environment with each new client engagement, that required I learn something new and often pushed me outside my comfort zone.  I got to work with many great people in many different organizations, large and small.  Over the years, I began to question traditional methods and practices that I had learned. In particular, I became increasingly dissatisfied with my own approach to project management and delivery.  I began experimenting with some new techniques I was reading about.

In 2003, I got the opportunity to lead a major ERP and CRM implementation project for a Telecom client that was starting to employ Extreme Programming (XP) within their development group.  Although my project was more about implementing a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system with little custom develop, I decided to give XP a try.  I was amazed at how effective our team was with this new method and, most importantly, how focused we were on collaborating with and satisfying the end users (aka. Customers).

I was hooked.  I spent the next couple of years continuing to experiment with XP and then Scrum and trying to convince my clients and teams to do the same.

I stopped calling myself a Project Manager and started trying to learn how to be a ScrumMaster and help teams adopt Scrum.  I started to build on each successful gig to fuel my learning and evangelizing Agile, Scrum and XP. As I got more experience with more teams, I started to shift into coaching multiple teams, then coaching PMOs and Management teams.  I believe that to be a successful Coach you need to be curious and more interested in helping people find their own solutions, rather than having all the answers.  

Richard Dolman

Q: What are your top 3 tips for Agile managers?

A: Stop trying to control what your teams do. Ask how you can serve them instead.

Stop focusing on Projects and focus instead on creating stable, sustainable teams.  Projects come and go.  The knowledge and shared commitment that a stable team can generate is a valuable asset worth nurturing.  

Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary and encourage your teams to do the same. Try replacing it with “possibly”, following by “help me envision it”.  You’d be amazed at what people can do if they simply have the leadership and latitude to break the limitation of “can’t do” and explore the possibilities.  That’s when you get real, lasting transformation, innovation and value delivery.

Model the behavior you want to see out of your teams.  Don’t just “support” Agile or give it lip service as long as teams are still getting work done.   

Q: What is the main inspiration for what you do?

A: I love helping teams improve and enjoy their work. I love helping people learn and grow professionally.  I enjoy taking a relatively simple set of concepts, principles and practices and applying them to complicated situations.

I’m fascinated by how relatively simple Agile and Lean concepts, principles and practices are, yet implementing and sustaining them in many organizations can be quite challenging.

I’m inspired when I see real change taking place in individual and team behavior.

Q: What have you seen lately that is interesting and new? (in the world of Agile)

A: My current “side-project” is providing a knowledge base and source of information regarding the topic of Scaling for the Agile community.  There are a variety of approaches and frameworks available, as well as a lot of opinions and dogma.  I try to bring balance, perspective and a bit of sanity to the conversation around scaling agile within organizations.  The interest has been growing for a couple of years now.  There are those that are quick to say they need a specific framework or model, while others are encouraging de-scaling.  I believe it’s important to first understand the problem(s) you are trying to solve in your organization, including clearly defining what “scaling” means in your organizational context, before you start assuming a particular approach will work for you.

Along this line, I think the idea of having co-located teams is getting harder to adhere to.  Although I still strongly advocate for it whenever possible, it seems every organization is becoming more and more distributed, resulting in the need to find effective ways to help distributed teams succeed.  I hope to bring more emphasis on building healthy, high-performing teams within the organizations I coach.  

Q: Favourite non-fiction book and why.

A: The Last Lecture, by Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch. The story of this brilliant, humble man facing his fatal disease with dignity, grace and resolve really struck a cord with me. It reminds me to try to be more of a Tigger and less of an Eeyore.

In terms of business books, I’m currently re-reading The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. I connect with his premise that “The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health.” and that “the leader must be out front, not as a cheerleader or a figurehead, but as an active, tenacious driver.”  I try to help leaders make that connection as well.  I think much of this really relates well to organizations attempting to “transform” with Agile.  Leaders and managers are often eager to know how they’ll measure the success of the teams that are transitioning to Agile.  I ask them to consider how they can measure their teams’ Health rather than some, often arbitrary metric of delivering faster, or more.  Many have never considered the question of how healthy the organization is or how to measure it.  For me, one leading indicator of a healthy organization is when leaders and managers truly model the behavior they desire out of the rest of the organization rather than just giving it lip service.  

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Yolanda McAdam

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Yolanda McAdam

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