In the renewed Scrum Facilitators community podcast we talk about Scrum with practitioners in the community.
In this episode Steve Trapps talks to Jen Gwilliam about how she became an awesome and highly respected Agile Coach after starting out in life wanting to be a Veterinarian! What makes her tick and how does she help teams grow into their full potential; what does she look for in highly effective teams and how does she build trust within the teams?
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In order to try and go from A to B point that I wanted to try and achieve. I knew I would have to take a hit and make it take a sacrifice to do that. Welcome to the Scrum Facilitators Community Podcast. The Place for real conversations around Scrum. Welcome back to the Scrum Facilitators Community Podcast. Sorry for stumbling over my words that we've had some technical issues here and we're having fun and games with me. My name is Steve Traps. I'm a Scrum facilitator. And joining us today is Jen Gwilliam. Jen, would you like to introduce yourself? Yes. Hi, everyone. Thanks, Steve. So I was really flattered to be invited to do this podcast with you. We've known each other for quite a while. Haven't worked together in quite a while. Yeah. So currently I'm the Agile Practice Lead Hiscox Insurance for the UK retail technology leadership team. We're embarking on an agile transformation, so it's a very exciting time to join the company. I joined them at the beginning of May. Prior to that, I was at Sky, as you know, for seven years and the last five years of that I was working in Sky News and sports, digital, which is very busy, exciting environment to be working in as well. Sounds good. Still. Yes, it is. Yeah. So but it was time to make the move and it was it's nice to go to a company where they're right at the start of their agile transformation journey. So there's lots to do and it's very exciting. Yeah, I mean, this is I mean, like you said, I've known you for some years and this is the thing I wanted to share with our friends listening here is your experience about agile transformations and much, much other things. And now we normally ask a couple of questions when we get going, just so people get to understand and know you a little bit more. We tend to ask the same question. So how would your friends describe you in two sentences? Oh, two sentences. Gosh, I think they would say I'm a very generous person, but also very organized because I'm the one that usually organizes all the parties and the trips and presents that we need is great. But I also recognize that I'm a very independent person, so I'm not very good at asking for help. And I quite often I'm usually the one that's offering help to them rather than the other way round. And I don't always show when I need help. The day I need to be able to fall onto that and say, okay, I need some help at some point, but what do you love most about your job? That's a really difficult question because there's so many aspects to my job, so I actually think therefore variety is most probably the thing that I love about my job. I mean, isn't it a cliché to say no to days of the same? But they really aren't. And I really love that. And another aspect of it is I've found moving more into Agile, the agile worlds, the Agile coaching space in particular. Is this a real global community? And I've worked with so many different people from all around the world, and I love finding out about their cultures and and their countries and it's lovely to be part of that. So I think the other aspect of it, as well as variety is the people, the people that you meet. Yeah. Just being able to piggyback piggyback off their experiences. Yeah, absolutely. I learn so much every day. I learn so much from different people, whether that's Facebook, you know, looking at things on LinkedIn or joining meet ups, going to webinars. Yeah. And anything, I just soak it all up. Brilliant. Now the exciting question from our last podcast from Nancy Beers she posed you a question and it was what did you want to be or what did you want to become when you were a kid? And what happened to that idea? Okay, so that's a really easy question for me to answer because from a very young age, I knew that I just wanted to be a veterinarian. I wanted to be a vet. I am crazy, crazy, mad about dogs. My mum said that even when I was in the pushchair I was always reaching my hand out to touch dogs as we were. We were going by and she was worried that I was going to get my hands bitten. My fingers bitten. Yeah. So I always wanted to do that. I set myself up for doing my O-levels to study and hoping to pass my exams to get into veterinary college. Sadly, I didn't make the grade and then when I went into sixth form where I started to do some retakes and fortunately my best friend was passed away. It was killed in a car accident and I kind of lost the plot a little bit then, and I decided to rethink a life and I didn't end up doing it. And I just went down the business studies and accountancy route and kind of tapped into the math side of my brain. And then but then in 1999, I wanted to revisit it. You know, it was it was eating at me that I really wanted to do it. And yeah. So I explored trying to give up work to go into veterinary nursing or veterinary technician activity. I even considered becoming a practice manager in a vet, so I could at least be close to that environment. But anyway, again, life took a different turn and I wasn't able to do it. So for some reason I was meant to stay in technology. So that's what I've done. That being said, if I ever won the lottery, I would buy and build myself an animal hospital and I would sponsor so I would sponsor some vets, says some veterinary students. And that's what I'd do with my lotery money. Yeah well veterinarys loss is definitely an agile world gain just for the matter of experience and you know your approach to it you know especially people I talk to everybody seems to know you and then say about the good work that you're doing and the great work you've done in the past as well. Thank you so what is it about agile transformations? You know, you saying you working at Hiscox and going on an agile transformation. What is it about that that fires you up? And I think so. When I started working in technology, it was very much fee model because it was that long ago and then that moved into waterfall way of working. But it but based of those ways of working for me a very controlled and you can work on things for months and months and months months and not really see a result. Yeah. It all through it. Oh by the time you do see a result you're quite tired of it I suppose. Yeah. You seem that you're working on the same thing over and over and over again. And I'm one of those people I'm not very good at taking orders and I'm not very good at working in a controlled environment. And I think when I started to work in an agile way, and that came about because I was contracted and I went to work for a company that worked in a agile way. And so that was very new to me. And it was it was as so my eyes had been opened and it was such a breath of fresh air. I was like, Wow, this is great. They were able to be flexible, adapt and make decisions for themselves. It was all very responsive and proactive and I really liked that. And I thought, this is this is something that I want to explore more of. Also, by that time, I'd been working in software testing for almost 25 years, and I was at that point where I was thinking, Gosh, how am I going to sustain myself? My interest in that for another sort of 20 plus years. And I feel it's about time. I, I did something different and new for myself. And so I started to get more and more interested in what was going on regarding Agile in the, the theory behind it. And then the one company that I then went to work for, I decided to take a move to a permanent job. I was there for two and a half years and then suddenly we all got made redundant because they decided to close the office. And so I thought, well, this is a great opportunity now for me to make a career move and change discipline. So I wrote down a list of all the things I liked about my existing job and all the things that I didn't. And then I took all the things that I liked and said, right, okay. Was what roles are out there in an agile world that kind of fit with that? And agile coaching seemed to be the fit. But then I thought, Yes, well, I don't know enough about Agile. I've only worked in one company that's Agile. It would be quite rude of me to think that I could just go out there and being agile. Coach So yeah, I needed to walk the walk more before I moved up into that. And so I decided to apply for jobs as a Scrum Master and I got my qualifications. I had some experience in it and I was fortunate enough to managed to get a job as a Scrum Master, and then the rest is history, as they say. I just sort of went really deep into that and got as much experience as I could with lots of different teams because every everyone who's worked with Agile squads generally knows that every squad is different and they've all got a different vibe. And I just learn as much as I could and got as much experience as I could. And then I tapped into all the skills that I'd used when I was in software testing and, you know, managing teams and leadership and applied, I applied those and then I went on and got some agile coaching qualifications as well and sort of work my way through. Which what would you say the biggest challenge in all that time was for you? On a practical level, initially it was the loss of income because I took a massive pay cut to do it, which was yes, some some people thought quite a crazy thing to do. But I mean. I showed some dedication. Yeah, I just decided that in order to try and go from A to the B point that I wanted to try and achieve, I knew I would have to take a hit and make it take a sacrifice to do that. But I was in it for the long game and I was prepared to do that and so I did that. So that was from it, from a, from a practical point of view. The other, the other thing was my mindset changing my mindset so difficult actually in, in, on paper it might seem an easy thing to do, but changing how I was communicating with people, going from that dialog of where all the accountability and responsibility sat on my shoulders to then realizing that no, the accountability and responsibility was shared and sat with the team. And so I went from telling people what to do to asking and coaching and encouraging people to make those some of those decisions for themselves was was quite a difficult thing for me to do because literally from the age of 18 for starting work up until the point where I or I moved into this way of working where I was well in my mid late forties at that point I'd been so conditioned to work in a certain way and communicate in a certain way and in the workplace. And so that that was quite a challenge for me to have to make that change. So how did you break those habits? Well, a lot of it was just keep reminding myself and taking a pause when I went to say something. Some of that was through reading and doing course, says, yeah, but some of it was actually telling. Was like telling, though again, I'm telling was actually saying to the squad themselves, Look, call me out on it. If you see that I'm telling you to do something, tell me that I'm telling you to do something. You know, remind me. And I said it because I'm it was so I was I was doing it so unconsciously that I realized that I needed people to call me out on it. So that's. So you were empowering them. I'm sorry. It sounds like you were in power. Empowering them to call you out. Yeah, yeah, I suppose. In a way, yeah. And obviously, not every. Not everybody would do that, but I had to be in the moment because if it didn't, then I was never, ever going to end, never, ever going to learn. I saw them practice and I went and did a two day introductory course to coaching, which was quite an eye opener and helped me in in learning new ways of asking questions. And that was good. And then I just practiced every, every moment I thought I even practiced and it sounds crazy, but even practiced it on a dating site with the way I feel. And tell me more about. Some really interesting answers that I don't think I can share. Some of them really. But you were using coaching techniques on a dating site? Yeah. To try and try and discover things about people. The way I was asking the questions was slightly to. Give us an example of the kind of questions you would. It was hard to. Put you on the spot a. Long, long time ago now. Long time ago. But I was asking things like, So tell me what interests you about that hobby that you've got? Why, you know. Yeah, and I would ask, so what is it that you hoping to achieve from being on a dating site, you know, and asking it in that way just to sort of see how they might reply? It's certainly different from. Do you come here often? Yes. Yeah, that's true. I did get asked that once actually. Yeah. And then I ended up and then I ended up marrying the guy. But that was a whole different story. Yeah, right. So what do you see the biggest challenges in your role? Are, you know, in the agile transformation? And I think I think from taking people I mean, it might sound a bit cliche as well, that you take taking people on a journey is until people experience some of these ways of working, the ways of doing themselves, they're not completely trusting of it. And that's totally understandable. You know, you're taking people out of their comfort zone even though they might want to. There's there's a difference between the the theory of it and then the doing of it. But I think that people have to do it in in order to then understand it and appreciate and learn from it. You're never going to learn if you don't try something. So that can be a challenge. Just get it get it off the ground. And for people to start start doing certain things, I think, oh, sorry. As they say, another challenge is that when they try something and it doesn't work right, first time, I think sometimes people think, oh, well, it doesn't work. And so what you've got and then go to coach and say, that's okay, it's okay that it didn't work first time. What did you learn something from it. So let's see how we can shape it slightly differently or what was good about it and what wasn't so good about it. And then. And then you find another way. There's always a way. But the idea is just to find a new way. A better way. Yeah. So, yeah, it's. It's. It's picking yourself up. You've learned something. Dust yourself down. Right. Okay. What can we try? What can we do differently? What's, you know, what have we learned from that? So yeah. I'm so and so people to learn for themselves and try things themselves, you know, being able to say, have the courage to say this doesn't work, but actually we'd like to do this instead. Try this and create an environment where they can do that, you know, so they can explore and try things. Because ultimately what you what you're trying to do, I mean, I focus quite a bit on on people and employee and mindset and ways of working, but ultimately what you're trying to do is create high quality products for the business, but you're also trying to protect and to create an a sustainable environment for the staff as well for the employees. You want them to enjoy what they're doing because if they enjoy what they're doing, then they're they're going to ultimately get a better, better outcome. You know, like I'm not very good at baking. I make a cake and it's not going to be great. I'm going to tell you now. It's not going to be great. But I've got friends who love baking and they'll make the most delicious cakes, you know, and you don't want that. You want a cake from them. You wouldn't want to have a cake for me. Okay, but you tweaked and interested me. Are you saying that you know, the enjoyment signs would be there and things like that? So what? What would that look like in a team that's going through a transformation? What are those enjoyment signs that you need to look out for all the reverse? So I think initial enjoyment signs for me would be that they are coming to me or coming to the team and saying, I've got an idea for something. How about we try this? You know, they're coming up with their own solutions to things. When we when the team or someone in the team is recognized, we've got an issue with something that's lovely to see that really is lovely to say. And I encourage that. You know, when I, when I, when people have come up with an idea, I go, okay, let's great, we'll switch. Should we try it? Will do it. Will does everyone else think they know and get and get their input on that. Yes. You're buy-in Yeah. I think on the on the reverse of that it's when people are very quiet. I mean, we hear it all the time. You know, there are always people in it in the team who are more vocal than others. But the quiet people, sometimes people think that that's a problem, but sometimes I think, well, they might just be listening and having some great ideas and they might be they might work better when you're in a 1 to 1 environment. So sometimes what I do is after a main meeting has finished, I ask if I can talk to one person, to a person on a 1 to 1 basis, and then I just have a quiet chat with them and they might feel better just talking on a one on one because they haven't quite got the same level of confidence that they actually have some gems of an idea. And this is somebody that you've you've noticed in that meeting this little bit quiet or not. That might have been one that might have been over time as well. That isn't necessarily just a one off meeting that that might have been over time. You notice a pattern with it and so it's good to have a chat with them. And then, you know, because some people, they're quite happy to talk on video, but others aren't so so instance you have to create an environment where there's, where there's room for everyone to contribute in the best way that suits them as well, you know, and how they want to be treated because not everyone in. And especially in the hybrid way of working that we're working at the moment, you know, the Zoom calls, team calls, all that kind of thing. Know, yeah, it's we're experiencing a little bit over here, you know, talking over each other a little bit. So you miss out on that dynamic of. Yeah, because they, you know, you miss out on you miss out on some of the body language and especially if the camera is off. Yeah. And I remember when we first went into the pandemic and, you know, having to have the camera, my camera on all day and, you know, be on a laptop all day, it gets a bit draining. And also, you know, people can have some insight into your life a little bit. A little bit because they can see behind you. But for me, it was seeing my own face down in the corner of the laptop that kept distracting me it. I don't even notice it now, but at first I used to really I used to find it really distracting. And then it wasn't really focusing on what was what was being said. So I thought, shall I turn my camera off? And then I thought, no, I'm really need to get through this, work through it. So I just I just left it on. But, you know, there are people that live in certain situations where, you know, they don't necessarily want people to see their back, you know, the background of their houses and things like that. And that's okay. And I mean, that's why it's great. Now, you can have blurred backgrounds if you want to, or you can select another image as a background if you want to. And that's and that's fine. And if people don't want to put a camera on, well, okay, that's fine too. But as long as, you know, you explore the reasons the reasons why with the reason with that. So yeah. And create that safe space for people to talk and open up and to actually share what's going on. Yeah, actually, it could be that, hey, they don't actually have a camera. Yet as it can be as basic as that, they don't has the web which can have. What what thing and then really putting you on the spot here, what thing do you wish that somebody had told you or shared with you? Which pearl of advice that submitted shared with you that you knew an earlier age, that you now know? Well, there was a a a guy actually called Doug Kirkpatrick, who I saw at the Agile People Conference in Stockholm back in can't remember if it was 2018 or 2019. And he walked on stage and he just said, management is broken. And I thought that was just wonderful what he said. And then he went on to talk about work life balance and he said, There is no such thing as work life balance. Essentially, it's all life. And and just some of the times we're doing work as part of that life, and sometimes we're doing other things. And I just really loved that. And he he really opened up my eyes to things that I think I do or do been was been thinking but couldn't quite put my finger on it. As I said earlier, I'm not very good at taking orders and I really did resist and resent the fact that I had a linemanager. And so yeah, years and I hated performance management and for years I went contracting. I went contracting for 18 years predominantly with that and I wish I could have developed through through those. So pearls of wisdom and developed a healthier relationship with performance management. I have a better relationship with it now, but for many years I didn't. Now, how are you taking that experience into your new position? You know, are you it's kind of cruel of me. Are you walking the walk now and thinking about your position and how you affect people? Oh, yes, very much. Very much so. And obviously, being a line manager myself, I'm very conscious about making the whole performance management way of working that we have to go through because obviously, you know, different companies have different ways of doing it. But you, you know, you have to work within those parameters. I try to make the whole experience as comfortable as possible for people that are going through it because, you know, at the end of the day, it's their career and you want to support them and and help them get the best out of their career and help them develop and grow. And sometimes that can involve some difficult conversations. So I try to do it in a way that's compassionate and human as possible. Yeah, we sometimes we forget that people are human and need compassion and they need that space. And yeah, you know, to hear, Oh, you're not meeting this level or you didn't, you know, it's what are the implications of that? How can we help? Yeah, you know, absolutely. And you know, generally people come to work because they want to do something good with the time when they're at work. And sometimes they don't always have they have the best intentions, I believe, but they just don't always have the right skills or they don't always have the right tools, or they just haven't been shown a certain way or the they don't know how to ask for help either. And it's about getting to the crux of our and that's why I think also why I've enjoyed working in an agile way, because I've also been learning coaching techniques, predominantly agile team coaching. But you know, when you learn coaching, you can apply that in any walk of life. Yes, yeah, very much so. You know, you can if you're not a coach, you can coach any situation and be able to do that. So I'm just thinking what what are the next challenges for you in your role? So oh goes. Through that you could share with. Context. So I've got a hire, a team hiring team of Scrum Masters. That's one thing. So I've been going through some recruiting recently. I think, uh, going through some practices that we need to go through and getting real about. What are the successes that we're seeing, you know, and convincing people and encouraging people and showing people that, you know, if we haven't safe enough, what we're doing at the moment, you know, if we haven't delivered as many features as you might want to expect, expects, will, just because people are learning, they're learning a new way of doing. Learning in a way. Right. Okay. Yeah. There also might be some constraints that we're working within. So it is finding ways to break through those or ways to both respect those and break the molds that those entrenched and those entrenched ways of thinking and those entrenched ways of doing things. Well, if we've you know, we've always done it in that way. Okay. But then that doesn't mean that you need to do it. So there's lots of exploring that I have to do to find out why things are done, the way they're done now. I have to respect the fact that there could be some regulatory things. Yeah, I respect the fact that there are other system teams and other companies involved and so we have to find a pathway through that suits everybody's needs. So there's a mixture of respecting and compromising, but also pushing boundaries and also trying to disrupt and break some bricks, preconditioned behaviors and thinking as well. Yeah, it sounds like you've got a really interesting task or thing to come out of. It is is, it is. And also it's trying to I guess what what challenge could come for me is trying to manage that expectation of the results versus how long it really could take people. Because as we know, we've gone through a transformation and it's it's not a five minute job. And also, I really want to make sure that we live that we get to a point where people are not just going through the motions of it. I really want to explain why why we do things the way we do things, what is important about it. And so it's giving people that understanding of, hey, this is why we transform. Yes, this is this is future benefits that we have and understand why. Yeah, I've actually got a neighbor who's recently gone to work for a company who is working in agile away. And for the first time they're working in an Agile team because they're in development and they're working in a team. And they were asking me on the Saturday I popped around for a drink and they were asking May, Well, what's the point of just saying what I did yesterday, what I'm doing today? And if I've got any issues, why does everybody have to do that? I can't see any point in doing that. I could just tell my colleague, couldn't I? And and so I had to have a conversation about what good daily Scrum looks like and what you're really trying to achieve behind it, you know, and that's moving. Towards that goal. You want Surrey moving forward. Moving, moving forward to the Sprint goal. Yeah. So I mentioned about the Sprint Goal and he said he didn't even know what it was. So but I guess it. Looks like you would be. Watch. Yeah, I said maybe he could ask. When you go back to work, maybe ask a scrum master what it is and ask your product owner if you've got one what it is. So the sad thing is that, you know, there's quite a few teams. In fact, probably more teams than not, you know, don't understand the importance of the Sprint goal and just having that those three questions, they were in the scrum. God, they've been removed. You don't know you don't know. It's yet people get stuck in there in that pattern. It's always been that way. We must, you know, talk about what we did yesterday. But why the house is on fire now. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So I'd rather not rush I'd rather I've got start to really understand the value of what we're doing, not just in the value of what we're delivering, but the value in how we're doing it and the value that it brings to people as individuals as well as well as can. If, if our listeners wanted to get in touch with you about is opportunities and doing and understanding the why and you know, you just talk about looking at Scrum Master, things like that. How best could they reach out to you? I think the easiest, simplest way is to connect with me on LinkedIn and then send me a message. And I it is fair to say that I spend more time on my mobile phone than I should, Dave. And I think generally I'm looking at LinkedIn every day. And I to be fair, I've learned a lot from LinkedIn. I've connected with people on LinkedIn, and this is how I discovered Liberating structures, techniques which, you know, I'm really. Yes. And that was through just reading an article one day that I had seen written by a guy called Barry Overeem. And so I connected with him, read his article that was back in, I think, 2015. And then it kept niggling me in the back of my head that it's something I wanted to find out more about. And then I eventually said, I think it was back in 2017, 2018. I thought, Right, that's it. I need to do something about this. And and I formed my own practice group at work and anyone else would find out about this as well. Let's, let's have a go. And so we started and and now I do I do some talks when people ask me on, on what liberating structures is. What actually is kind of sense that nicely that are you doing any talks public talks or appearances plan that our listeners could attend or. Not? Virtually, yeah, not at the moment. Apart from so I have actually got one tomorrow. But it's not public as such. It's for the company. Okay. But it's actually a cancer talk on stem cell donation and bone marrow transplant because. That's something that affects me. But no, recently I was part of the one tech one world tech global conference where I was talking about being a woman over 45 and still ambitious. So I was part of a panel there. But no, there isn't anything in the diary as I'm. But but if people do want to contact you it's best through LinkedIn yeah and you know. Yeah absolutely. Cool. And before we round out, do you have a book or an article that you recommend to our listeners to. Oh, yes. Well, I have loads. I have loads. But if I could be cheeky and suggest two books. Sure. So I'm a real big fan of the work that here Maria Torin and her group of Agile people coaches do, and that's part of actual People.com. And they wrote a book that they did a conference on called Agile People Principles Your Call to Action for the Future of Work. And it's each chapter is written by someone. They're all different. And the topics are really wonderful about how to really engage yourself and your organization in not just an agile way of working, but an agile way of thinking. And I notice the whole book really inspirational and I refer to it a lot. Yeah, that's great book. And the other one, which is just been great for me personally as well, is the book by Susan Jeffers that a lot people might already know and feel the fear and do it anyway. It's it's just a great book and I think it's brilliant in terms of if you want to apply in an agile, agile world, agile thinking about, you know, it's okay to fail. You know, you learn from it. Just try things, don't be afraid, which is easier said than done. Yeah, he's taught things from a very young age and depending on what our experiences are, we that can be quite fearful of some things and not as things. And as Jim Fortin says, it's all about the content may be the same, but it's the context that makes you take different actions and different you think in a different way and different behaviors. But I think it's a fantastic book. Great recommendations and your gift to our next podcast. What's your question? You'd like our next guest to ask? Answer, right? Okay. Yes, a little bit of thinking about it. So if you were given a years sabbatical, how would you like to spend it? Oh, that's a great question. That is a great question. So if you were given a year sabbatical, how would you like to spend it? Brilliant. I look forward to whoever answers that question, answering that question and then thank you for your time. It's been a pleasure listening to you and talking to you about all your experiences. And again, if anybody wants to contact you via LinkedIn, you open and open to that. So Jen, thank you very much for appearing on the Scrum Facilitators community podcast. And thank you so much for asking me because I know this is my very first podcast. So yeah, you both excited and yeah, nervous, but so thank you. It's been a great, great experience. Brilliant. Thank you. Cheers Thank you for listening to the Scrum Facilitators Community Podcast, The Place for real conversations around Scrum. Do you have a story to share in this podcast? Get in touch with us at podcast at Scrum Facilitators dot com.