The First Coaching Days

I can’t over-emphasize for new coaches the importance of rampant opportunism. Until you’ve established your miracle powers in a team, you won’t be able to move big levers, only small ones. Which small levers will bring you the biggest bang of trust & faith the fastest?

Some possible openings: we find a bug that’s an exemplar of a family of bugs, and we refactor so it never can occur again. Or we have an untestable, if they’ve started TDD’ing, and we change it so it’s now testable. Or, rally sucks & exhausts us, so we make a below-the-line/above-the-line, keep only above in rally, and rotate a maintainer/victim role.

Very geek-centric, and that’s not by accident. When i’m called in, it’s often from the top or side. I need to gain traction on the floor. You gain traction by being perceived as having already helped.

A key insight: stay mostly out of their hair in the early days. I start every gig by telling the team I realize they work for a living, and that I will be asking for very little until I find my feet and they find some confidence in me.

The "fast talk with mike" is a great technique for this. I ask for two things. 1) a loaded dev box that’s mine, 2) 20 minutes a day.

The rules for fast talk are simple: "shut up and listen and watch". "mandatory for first 2 weeks". And "no agenda in advance". I spend the mornings in their code base, maybe paired, maybe not. I draw lessons, learn what tricks they’re missing, & show them in fast talk. Typically, by the end of that 2nd week, i’ve had dozens of sidebars where people say, "show me how you did that." or "take a look at this." it’s all tiny steps, tiny steps. When you’ve taken all the first level of tiny steps, the second level that was too-big looks & feels tiny. So then you start on those. And so on. Eventually, if you are actually making life easier, they will ask you to solve hard problems.

And you’re on your way. 🙂 a word: sometimes your floor manager wants you to do more faster. This is an opening, too. I say, "i am doing more faster, you just aren’t in a position where you can tell." i’m changing AND modeling how change works AND helping. I am often asked by these folks how they can tell it’s working. I explain, you will know if it’s working, I will show you the indicators.

The key in the short term at the beginning: actually help right now in little ways.

Another opening: most of teams already have a standup of sorts. Most of those standups are weak and ill-loved. The kernel of the problem: people talk too much. There are several flavors of that.

  1. People solve problems in standup. Don’t answer any question that takes longer than 2 sentences to resolve.
  2. People go around the circle of attendees instead of going around the work in progress. Focus on the work.
  3. Managers tend to be focal points, so they turn into reports-to-managers. Ask them to lay low or even not come for a week or two.
  4. Some players want in on every single conversation. That’s a hard one to crack. Easiest: tell them to walk around after and set up times.

Fixing standups is such a little thing, but it’s easy and it helps from day one, and that’s what you want, early on.

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