You Want Me To Do What?!?

I grew up in a working-class neighbourhood. As a teenager, I took any and all opportunities to make a little spending money.

I wasn’t picky about the job.

It was either that or shoplift the things I longed for. After being escorted home in a police cruiser following a failed attempt by my brother and I to shoplift a couple of Kool-aid drink mix packets from a grocery store, I decided it was time to work for what I wanted.

I remember three of my earliest odd jobs.

The first odd job was hawking print newspapers when the Toronto Sun first published its Sunday edition. It was a bristling business selling the paper on the side of the road to passing motorists. I had never sold anything before so I improvised by just holding up the paper and waiting for cars to notice, stop and buy. The more I sold, the bigger the adrenaline rush, and the greater my sense of accomplishment.

The second odd job was extracting lead from old car batteries. I had no idea what I was getting in to. I should have clued in when they handed me thick rubber gloves, a plastic apron and suggested I try not to breathe in too much of the pungent smell of battery acid. My job was to hold and line up each old battery on its side underneath what looked like a guillotine. With the press of a switch, the guillotine-like blade came swooshing down to chop off the top of the battery as I held on to the bottom half of the battery. I then had to pour the acid inside the battery into a large vat, pull out the lead cells inside to be salvaged for cash, toss the remaining carcass onto a massive heap of battery remains, grab another old battery and repeat. I lasted one day on that job. To this day, I can still recall the smell of that battery acid.

The third odd job was as a furniture mover for a day. The only qualifications I needed were a pair of steel-toed boots and a willingness to lift heavy items. I was picked up at 8am, handed a green company t-shirt and met up with the rest of the crew. Our job that day was to move all the contents out of one house and in to another house. We rode together in the cab of the moving truck to the first house. We first packed and wrapped all of the small and fragile items followed by loading them caringly onto the truck. Then we worked in pairs on the larger, heavier items. I learned a lot about how to maneuver large items around corners, down winding stairs and through narrow doorways. By the time we finished unloading everything into the second house, I was done. At least I could say I was a professional furniture mover. I even got to keep the company t-shirt as proof.

So, why did I reminisce on these odd jobs?

Because I recently found myself doing a job which seemed “odd” for an Agile Coach.

As an Agile Coach, my days are usually spent coaching, facilitating, teaching and mentoring. So, when I was asked to help project manage a Proof-Of-Concept (POC) engagement with a vendor during an Request For Proposal (RFP) evaluation, my spidey-sense was triggered. Like most things, it started with the best of intentions.

How might we introduce agility into a traditional vendor RFP process?

I took this intent to heart and even considered introducing the concept of Design Sprints into how we could run the POC with the vendor. But alas, I found myself translating PMI’s PMBOK terminology, updating Gantt charts and negotiating training schedules instead. Not the kind of jobs one would think of when they think about what an Agile Coach does.

But, you know what?

I grew to tolerate, appreciate, become competent in and, dare I say, even ‘like’ those odd jobs. As I diligently did the work, I’ve come to realize three things that have helped ameliorate my initial concerns.

  1. Be part of the team to help the team. One of the best parts of doing these odd jobs is becoming an accepted and valued member of the RFP team. They don’t see me as an Agile Coach, but as an RFP team member. We’ve bonded and developed a level of trust between us that will pay handsome dividends in future on their ongoing Agile journey.
  2. Be willing to walk a mile in their shoes. As an Agile Coach or any professional life coach, we try to stay impartial and objective. To be a mirror for our clients so that they can figure out on their own how to solve their problems. By diving into the client’s actual work, doing it and subjectively bitching about the challenges, I’ve compromised my objectivity. Yet, I’m ok with that. My credibility when I make suggestions to my client has now increased. Walking a mile or two in their shoes is a small price to pay for credibility as a coach.
  3. It’s not about Agile, it’s about helping the client succeed. At the end of the day, when we look at the real reasons behind a client’s desire for Agile ways of working, those reasons have nothing to do with becoming proficient at Agile ways. They have everything to do with the client aspiring to achieve business outcomes that enable their resilience and robustness as a going concern in the world. At the end of my day, it will have been a good day if I’ve helped my client get closer to the business outcomes they desire. No matter what I have to do.

When I was a teenager, I did odd jobs for the spending money.

Now, as an Agile Coach, I do odd jobs for the benefit of my client and their teams.

And, I’m ok with that!

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