Original interview: 10 questions for agile coach Christoph Dibbern
Christoph, how did you actually come into contact with agile methods?
Parallel to my master’s degree, I worked as a student trainee in the scrum team of a software house for energy systems in 2010 and got to know agile methods in practical use. A project in which I was allowed to take on the role of product owner was also exciting: I suddenly experienced the cooperation between the development team and product owner from a different perspective and had to include business analysis in my decisions, for example. In short, I was “infected” with the agile mindset during my studies and the fascination has remained to this day.
What excites you about the job as an agile coach?
For me, the attraction is to get people excited about the agile mindset. I enjoy supporting companies and teams in independently improving their processes and collaboration. A holistic view of the current corporate structure and existing interactions is particularly important to me. Together with the teams, I want to make these structures more efficient and remove obstacles.
Can you briefly describe your everyday life?
I work for bigger clients in the financial industry with 3,500 employees as a Scrum Master and Agile Coach. E.g. I supported two of four Scrum teams and the project management in efficiently designing the current IT project with around 40 developers and 20 experts, taking into account the SAFe standard. Among other things, I am involved in focus group meetings and community of practice in order to intensify the cross-team exchange on cross-sectional issues and to jointly develop goals and solutions.
I also take care of the acquisition of exciting new projects, establish contacts with interested companies, and am active in various agile communities. In the future, I will also be sharing experiences from my daily.
What typical hurdles have you encountered in your work with companies?
It is always necessary to re-understand the existing structures and interactions between the different areas of the company and the people — depending on the size of the project, this is a real challenge! Every company and every team is different and so there is no “blueprint”, but we have to select suitable methods for each customer individually. Experience has shown that an important basis at the beginning of the project is the sharpening of the agile mindset.
In your opinion, what are the three most important characteristics of an “Agile Leader”?
New, agile methods of leadership, intrinsic motivation, and the willingness to hand over responsibility are important. In order for this to work, the teams must be allowed to organize themselves. A positive side effect: the regular reviews and joint planning promote a culture of innovation. If the teams can reflect through regular, team-specific retrospectives and goals are agreed on the basis of self-developed measures, cooperation will also improve. If an “Agile Leader” creates these prerequisites in the company, the effect becomes transparent and measurable after a short time — both for the teams and for the managers. Experience has shown that it is possible to identify and react to obstacles in processes, technologies and the people involved more and more quickly.
Is there a particular sense of accomplishment that you remember as an agile coach?
Yes, specifically a project at a logistics service provider. The task was to convert a developer team in the embedded area, which had previously worked according to the waterfall model, to Scrum. The work should be made more transparent for the customer and the trust between developers and customers should be restored. In agile workshops, we first built up a basic understanding of agile development together and then accompanied the conversion to Scrum step by step. The ability to present results a few weeks apart and thus create value at a constant pace quickly led to the first sense of achievement and a better mood in the team. The regular retrospectives were also very well received and have optimized the cooperation between product owners, stakeholders, and developers. As of today, customer satisfaction has increased significantly — for me as a coach a great sense of achievement.
Which websites inspire you professionally?
My four favorite sites are…
https://intrinsify.me (modern business development)
https://www.scrum.org/ and https://www.scrumalliance.org (scrum news and training)
http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html (recommendations for using Scrum)
Do you have any tips for young professionals who are interested in agile coaching?
As already mentioned, it helped me to gain my first practical Scrum experience early on during my studies. Alternatively, I recommend a Scrum Master course for young professionals to at least get a theoretical basis for the increasingly important topic of “agility”. In my opinion, it also makes a lot of sense — actually even indispensable — to work as a developer in an agile team for a few years in order to understand the daily challenges. After all, Agile Coaching has a lot to do with being able to put yourself in the different accountabilities and individual characters.
Keyword “lived agility”: Do you also benefit from agile methods in your private life?
My wife and I are both Agile Coaches and consultants and work in scaled-agile teams. The methods and experiences in the professional world help us to organize our private life in a structured way and regularly reflect on our coexistence. This includes in particular our communication.
Finally, can you tell us something about your leisure activities?
The topic of agility not only interests me professionally, but I also regularly visit Agile Communities in Germany such as in the cities of Oldenburg and Bremen in my free time to exchange ideas with like-minded people about current developments. I am also a passionate swimmer and train several times a week from June to August in a lake around the corner from me. And I love to travel — preferably with my wife to the different oceans of the world.