Tag Archives: best practice

10 pitfalls for coaching success

Bad coachingNot all will end well. Following are impediments for coaching I have experienced:

  1. There are no clear objectives for coaching.
  2. The coach has no mandate for coaching.
  3. There’s no designated time for coaching (coach + coachee).
  4. There’s too long time between event and coaching feedback.
  5. Coach nor coachee are measuring results (effectiveness).
  6. There’s no “walk the talk“: management is not coached themselves.
  7. There’s no support from line management.
  8. The coachee is not open for feedback.
  9. The coachee is not open for change.
  10. The coach has no empathy.
  11. The coach is using assumptions and slander instead of objective facts.


Please submit yours too!

Now let’s translate these pitfalls to positive ones and you have your checklist for coaching success!

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Improve team flexibility and continuity with skills matrix analysis

A skills matrix (also refered to as knowledge matrix) is a map or index of the team skills, listed by each team member and cross-referenced with the different areas or expertise.

The skills matrix is used for mapping the current skills, identifying potential harmful situations and taking action.
Uses for a skills matrix:

  • A skills matrix comes in handy when a new member joins the team and you want to get him up to speed.
  • When a team member leaves the team, the skills matrix can be used to identify possible knowledge gaps.
  • The skills matrix can be used proactively to guarantee team continuity.
  • Identify knowledge sharing and development needs between team members.
  • Installing cross-functional teams (in cross functional teams, team members have no specific speciality only, but a more generic profile).
  • Check the impact of key persons leaving the team: will it be a problem?
  • Increase team strength & flexibility, but also team spirit (eg. during the huddles team members will know each others areas better).
  • Create a RACI for the different areas of expertise: who are the SPOCs? Who are the experts to be consulted?
  • Identify which roles in the team need which skills (eg. soft skills vs. technical skills).
  • Set development targets.

Why do you need a skills matrix?

You need a skills matrix when you pick up following signals:

  • Estimations for new assignments are not made when key persons are not available.
  • Estimations for new assignments need to be approved or checked by key persons.
  • Permanence is difficult to arrange.
  • Statements like “if person X leaves, we will be in real trouble”.
  • Difficult arrangements for team continuity during the holiday periods (eg. summer vacation, Christmas).
  • Single Point of Confusion instead of Single Point of Contact.
  • Unclear responsibilities.
  • During a huddle, team members have no clue whatsoever what the other team member is talking about.

Skill matrix analysis

To score skills you can determine the criteria yourself:

  • None, insufficient, basic, good, expert
  • None, trained, coached, lead, training given, coaching given
  • Scoring on behaviour types

You can also use weights for both a horizontal and vertical analysis:

  • Horizontal: the extent to which every area is covered by different team members and expertise levels.
  • Vertical: the extent to which each team member is covering different areas and taking on different expert roles.

What can we learn form a skills matrix:

  • New team members will color red over the whole line. Use the skills matrix to set priority and focus for training purposes.
  • Identify key persons which are dominant in certain areas. Make sure these areas are also covered by more team members.
  • Identify knowledge gaps in certain areas.
  • Which team members have certain expert knowledge in areas which we don’t have (eg. Java knowledge in a .NET team).

Ready, set, go!

Setting up a skills matrix without taking further action is like creating a risk matrix without a mitigation strategy.
If you invest the time & effort to create one, don’t just hang it on the wall, but use it to take action and improve your team strength!
Next to each skill assessment you can add a target for the team member in that expertise area. Not all team members will have/need the same targets.

Further, the skills matrix is outdated from the click you use to close the file. People learn all the time.
So plan a recurrent update and action time slot in your agenda to check the progress.

Additional reading


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Gemba: advantages for the work floor

ChessGemba (or also Management By Walking Around) gets management more on the floor and involved in day-to-day business. The goal of gemba is to get a closer connection on the floor, experience what lives and help a hand where possible.

Gemba only works when it’s done sincere and not because the manager has to (checkbox behavior).

(Remark: if we talk about manager in this blog entry, we mean the modern leader who is a manager/leader/coach of the organization).

But what are the advantages for people on the work floor?

Management is easier accessible.

When management leaves the ivory tower, they make themselves available for people on the work floor. They are maybe not that accessible at first, but when the people on the work floor are used to seeing management around, the barrier to speak with them is lowered.

Management has another perspective.

Management gets on more places and has access to more information. With this privilege they are able to see things in another perspective. Compare it with a helicopter. They can provide help and insights.

Management has an example role

When management walks the talk and does its gembas, the work floor will see and learn that this behavior is accepted and expected. Nothing so confusing as management that says X, but does Y. People will start doing the same and start learning (more) from each other.

Take blocking issues along

In every company there are elephants in the room: problems so big that you need to talk about them. But some of them are there for ages and were not handled: ancient IT environments, silo politics, non-value adding rules and processes, … Raising these questions again with management can provide an escape from the current impasse, but only if management truly commits and really does something with the issue raised.

Gemba to support

Management can visit team/project meetings and daily huddles to support change efforts. This is more an advantage for middle management than for the work floor.

Even with all these advantages the work floor is not leveraging the best out of the gembas. What’s holding them back?

Unknown, unfamiliar, uncomfortable

When people on the work floor are still turning their heads and look surprised when management is on the work floor, you are still not doing enough gembas. It will look as if there is something serious going on (going wrong) and management is needed on the floor.

Give feedback

What is the manager doing here? Is he expecting feedback? If so, to what level of detail? Team members don’t always know what management is interested in. Make sure your expectations and role are clear.

Escalate issues

It’s not that easy to escalate to a (higher) manager. What is he going to do with the information? Does it make sense to report to him? What will my direct manager say? Will my direct manager get the feeling he’s passed by?

A lot of advantages and a lot of challenges…

Let’s do a gemba to improve upon it.

But next time, before you leave, check first what you want to accomplish and how you will know that this is done.

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Smart people have smart problems



This week I was asked to help with a problem solving (RCA – Root Cause Analysis) workshop. From my experience with RCA workshops I know that the workshop will succeed or fail from step 1: the problem definition.

When I got the actual problem(s), I was overwhelmed. It was not clear to me what the exact problem was and how I would get it to fit into the head of the fish bone (Ishikawa diagram).

Even when I applied my task force of six honest serving-men (What, Who, Where, When and How), I couldn’t get the problem sharp.

After talking with the participants, other lean coaches and searching on the Internet I got the problem sharp.

Let’s share some tips and look at the advantages!


Make your problem SMART: Specific – Measurable – Acceptable – Realistic – Time bound.

Workshop participants cannot disagree with a SMART problem because you have a measurable specific facts.

Try to formulate your problem in an elevator pitch.

If you cannot formulate the problem case in 1 to 2 sentences, it’s probably too complex, too blanket or too vague.

Check in advance with workshop participants if they agree with your problem statement and if not, what they propose.

This way you can avoid (expensive) discussion time during the workshop.

Don’t try to capture root causes hidden as effects in the problem definition.

Use only five of your six honest serving-men (What, Who, Where, When and How) for your problem definition, the sixth (Why) is covered in the RCA workshop.

Focus on the problem and not already on the root causes. These root causes will surface during the workshop.

Agree on the problem with the group before you start looking for the root causes.

Make sure everybody is focused and on the same page.

Hang the problem (formulated in the elevator pitch) on a visible spot during the workshop.

RCA workshop can take some time and it’s helpful to have to problem available to refer to in times of need.

Example 1 – four steps from a bad to a good problem statement

Bad problem statement:

“Our external vendor is delivering bad work”.

Why: too vague, not specific

Bad problem statement:

“Cooperation with our external vendor is going bad.”.

Why: too blanket

Bad problem statement:

“The external vender has delivered software with many defects because is not working like agreed”.

Why: has root cause in it, vague (“like agreed”?)

Bad problem statement:

“The external vendor has delivered software with many defects and the analysis was not on time”.

Why: multiple problems in one statement

Good problem statement:

“Our external vendor delivered software with 67 defects in the database layer for software release X on May 2nd and because of it the cost rose with 10%”.

Why: specific, measurable, factual, no discussion, has effect

Example 2 – two steps from a bad to a good problem statement

Bad problem statement:

“The project documentation is unclear and not up to date, so is not used by new team members”.

Why: multiple problems in one statement

Good problem statement:

“Project documentation in the maintenance team is not sufficient for training new team members which leads to twice longer orientation times”.

Why: specific, factual, no discussion, has effect


The advantages to put enough time in the preparation of your problem definition are:

  • Everybody is on the same page. Focus.
  • The problem is a (measurable) fact and no assumptions are made.
  • There’s no discussion about the existence of the problem.
  • Because the problem is a fact, it’s an issue that needs to be resolved.
  • If your problem is defined SMART, you can measure the effectiveness of the solutions you find & apply.

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved” – Charles F. Kettering, US electrical engineer & inventor, Head of research for GM (1876 – 1958)

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The power of positive formulation

Man has the tendency to formulate prohibitions in a negative way:

Please do not smoke.
You are not allowed to walk on the grass.
Forbidden to jump off terrace.
Don’t eat cookies because you’ll get fat.
Don’t bite your nails

But our brain doesn’t work that way: it doesn’t know the word “not”. So when you are programming yourself not to do something, you are actually programming yourself to do exactly that! The brain is focusing on exactly that what you do not want.

Please do smoke
You are allowed to walk on the grass.
Jump off terrace.
Eat cookies.
Bite your nails.

The most common example is that of (not) thinking of the pink elephant.

This doesn’t only count for the word “not”, but also for prefixes like “anti”, “a”, “un”, “non”. For example, anti-aggression, atheist, unclear, non-violent, …

If we apply the rules of positive sprache (positive speech) we can formulate the same message in a way that our brain can process it and sometimes even on a positive and funny way.

It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see

Let’s look at some examples in two to three stages. (Remark: to be compliant with this post, I’ll avoid the word “bad”)

Good              Please do not smoke.
Better              We would like to help us keep the air clean
Best                There is a special lounge for smokers reserved at floor +1

Good              I’m blind, please help.
Best                It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see.

Good              Don’t put your dirty shoes on the floor.
Better              Please keep the floor clean.

Good              Commuters cannot board in the last two (train) cars.
Better              Commuters need to board in the first four (train) cars.

Good              I am not fat.
Better            I am losing weight.
Best                I have reached my right weight.

Good              It’s not allowed for fitness event participants to use the public shower.
Best                We reserved private showers for fitness event participants in block B.

Good              You are not allowed to walk on the grass.
Better              Please remain on the paved path.
Best                Keep free, the tiny grass is growing.

The goal is to focus on what you want and not on what you don’t want.

Let’s start to practice!

Additional reading




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Working with targets: the high vs. the far jumper

Result planning is a technique that is used for planning financial and other results (what’s in a name?!). For doing result planning you need certain elements:

  • A goal: why are you doing result planning as such?
  • A measurement: what are you measuring? Why?
  • A baseline: from where on do you start measuring? What is your starting value?
  • A timeline: when do you start measuring? When do you end?
  • A target: which results do you want to reach (by the end of your timeline)?

And last but not least:

  • A plan: what are the intermediary steps to your results? Is your progress linear or are you growing in steps (eg. release related in ICT environments)?

When you doing result planning for cost savings or financial benefits, we can recognize three types of people:

  • People doing no result planning at all.
  • People who do result planning like far jumpers.
  • People who do result planning like high jumpers.

Since we are now in the spirit of the Olympic Games of 2012, let’s look at the jumpers.

Far jumpers

Far jumpers are athletics who try to jump as far as possible. There are no explicit targets set for them. They just try to jump as far as they can. For them, there’s only the run line, the jump line and the sand. It doesn’t matter how far they get, as long as they get the most far of them all.

In business environments, far jumpers don’t plan for results. They just try to achieve as much as them as possible. This has some advantages and disadvantages.

The advantage is that the sky is the limit: why set limits when you’re doing actions regarding cost savings or financial benefits? Just try to reach as much as you can!

The disadvantage is that without planning, results are only a matter of luck. When you don’t plan for results, you have no guarantee that results are made. Ever.

High jumpers

High jumper Tia Hellabaut

High jumper Tia Hellabaut

High jumpers are athletics who to try to jump over a preset (high) bar. High jumpers don’t try to jump as high as possible: before they jump, they tell the referee how high they are going to jump. 2,02 meters, 2,04 meters, …

This is actually result planning: they set a target in advance and do their best to reach it. If they didn’t reach it, they missed target. If they did reach it, they can raise the bar and go for a next attempt. So, when setting new targets, the term “raise the bar” is used. Now you know where it’s coming from when your superior tells to raise it.

The advantage of high jumping is that it’s clear for everyone what the target is and what you have to do to make it. Just like in the Olympic Games, it’s probably not possible to reach your end target in just one attempt: you need intermediary targets.

Here’s where result planning comes into place: determine your end target, determine the steps to reach it and don’t be afraid to raise the bar when you make your targets too soon.

Thanks to my colleague Bart for the metaphor!

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Communication plan for group communication

In a previous post “Communication for all – lessons learned from the NMBS” we discussed the need for a communication plan.

To recapitulate: the goal of a communication plan is getting the right information at the right time to the right recipients.

If you are a group that needs to communicate (eg. team, project team, manager board, …), a communication plan in itself might not be enough.

How will you avoid that members are sending out the same message multiple times?

How will make sure that the right message is spread?

How do you get everybody on the same page?

Who is overall responsible for the communication, the time/frequency and its contents?

A solution for this is a communication plan combined with a responsibility & assignment matrix (RACI – Responsible – Accountable – Consulted – Informed).

Steps to create

  1. First define the attributes for your communication. From the previous blog post we take: Frequency, Date, Medium, Type and Description.
    We confirm that we left out: Responsible and Target audience.
  2. Next define all roles in your team. Eg. project lead, analyst, designer, product owner, etc.
  3. Define all possible addressees: PMO, department head, rest of department, etc.
  4. Fill up the RACI matrix for each communication entry.
  5. Distribute the communication plan to the involved parties (or their representatives) and ask for review
  6. Start communicating!

An example

Continued from previous blog “Communication for all – lessons learned from the NMBS”.


Status Frequency Date



Description Project
Team Project
Done Once Start Proj Def phase



Project Charter – draft








Done Once End Proj Def phase



Project Charter – final








Done Every 1st and 3rd week Friday



Project Status Report – draft








Done Every 2nd and 4th week Monday



Project Status Report – final








Done Every month Monday



Test Status Report








How many R’s and A’s?

Make sure you respect the “RACI triangle” when setting up your RACI together with your communication plan. Otherwise some parties will be overloaded with consultations and others will receive more information than they need.

More on this in blog “A RACI is (no longer) carved in stone“.

RACI triangle

RACI triangle

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Giving feedback to your virtual team

In the song “Learning to walk again” from the Foo Fighters Dave Grohl sings:

A million miles away
Your signal in the distance
To whom it may concern

This describes the feeling some project leaders get when working with virtual teams with team members far abroad. Far abroad in the way that you can’t plan a visit or gemba very easy and hop by. Also called offshore or near-shore.

Not regarding the location of the team members, they are still part of the team and therefore contibute to the same strategy and goals of the local team. If you want to improve the whole team you need to be able to give feedback to the team members abroad.

An example

Virtual teamA local ICT team works together with colleagues in a foreighn country and there is only communication by phone conference, video conference, email and chat client. In best case, some of the colleagues abroad can come to your country for a few weeks for some intensive line-up and team building activities. The lead technical designer is responsible for making the milestones and taking action when not making it.

During the design & development period the team is getting close to the deadline, but on the last day before the deadline the lead technical designer abroad notifies the project leader that they aren’t going to make it. The lead technical designer proposes a new deadline, but the project leader immediately knows that it isn’t feasible and they aren’t going to make it either. Given the benefit of doubt, the project leader let the lead technical designer run for another attempt… and confirms it gut feeling: the deadline is again not met.

If the project leader now fails to give correct feedback based on fact and agree on improvement actions, the lead technical designer will fall in the same trap next milestone.

Giving feedback

The framework for giving and receiving feedback is described in an older blog entry “A continuous flow of feedback”. But the extra difficulty here is the fact that the team member is not available in person. All feedback, coaching and follow-up sessions need to be done by phone conference, video conference, email and chat client. Further, the cultural differences will add some more challenge to giving feedback.

Everybody can improve! Let not all the criteria hold you back in giving your feedback. Use objective facts and agree on an improvement plan.

In this particular case the project lead could also challenge the lead technical designer and ask how he got to the estimation. What parts are in the estimation? Put on your coach hat and let the coachee himself make the insight.

Tips for feedback to virtual teams

  • Use every opportunity to give feedback. Don’t postpone or let go because of the extra effort.
  • Plan feedback sessions with your virtual team on a regular base.
  • Set clear goals and targets for your virtual team + members. Attune them with your team. (over)Communicate your vision.
  • Make clear arrangements about the use of the different communication media.
  • Seize every opportunity for team building.
  • Ask feedback yourself.
  • Give the example as project leader. Be a role model. Walk the talk!

Additional reading





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Work is like a horse race

Racehorse runs with blinders

Racehorse runs with blinders

In a previous blog entry, we discussed the difference between a plan and steering board. The plan board is used for planning and balancing work for your team. To set focus. The steering board is used for measuring if your team is doing fine and reaching their objectives.

We can use the metaphor of a horse in a horse race to elaborate on the concept.

A team plan board is used to plan team effort on short team. You can compare it with the horse in the horse race: blinkers are used to focus its attention to the track and avoid the horse is distracted from the screaming audience all round.

A team steering board will contain measurements, KPIs, to see if the team is still on track. In the horse race you can compare this with taking off the blinkers and taking a step back. Where are we now? Are we doing good? How’s the rest doing in the race? Are we still on the right track? Almost like you would set the race on pause with your TiVo and taking a different camera angle.

To measure is to know, but don’t forget to plan for success! If you want to reach your team target, you have to plan for results. A KPI goes further that an actual today and a target value in x months: you need result planning. Plan small steps during the available time period that will lead you to your target.

If you’re not working with result planning, it’s like riding the race with the blinkers of your horse closed. Every round you open the blinkers for a second and then close them again. You are only measuring the actuals and not planning for the future, nor for success. You don’t know how you are doing in the race and what you were supposed to do, but only taking note that you are still on the race track.

Don’t limit this metaphor to planning and steering of day-to-day work! The same is valid for your Voice Of the Customer approach: take a moment to step back and see if you’re still on track.

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Get into flow

FlowFlow is a term used for different concepts. The concept that is described here today is high performance work.

Everybody has moment when time flies by. You are working hard and for some reason, you become unaware of what is happing around you, the music you hear and the feeling of time passing by. You are working hard, you like it and things get done.

For getting into flow you need a lead time: you cannot just start right away with high performing. The lead time is estimated to be as high as 15 minutes, so switching between tasks can have a very negative effect of getting into flow and your productivity.

Here is where the problem lies in many cases at our work and even personal live. Our society is becoming more and more interconnected and next to colleagues asking questions, you now also have cell phone where people can reach you at any point in time by calling or texting. On a smart phone you even have notification for each new email, Facebook request and software update. Your email and agenda client at work (or even at home) is popping up for every new email or calendar notification.

Next to all these, you have the forums, blogs, news sites and communities you are following.

For the digital attention drawers there are some easy tips which you can apply:

  • Put your messenger offline when your dedicated to one task.
  • Disable email notifications on your email client and smart phone.
  • Disable other notifications on your smart phone (eg. Facebook, software updates, …)
  • Only enable reminders for meeting that you have to attend to. Limit the amount and time of reminders.

Team work?

But what about those colleagues that ask you questions every x minutes? You cannot ignore them because the team and team goal are important, but you also can’t devote all of your time to helping them with every question.

How to detect the problem?

First of all, keep your eyes and ears open for complaints from colleagues at the work floor. If you notice there is some frustration, you study it to estimate how big the problem is.

The DILO (Day In the Life Of) technique is a very useful activity study technique for capturing problems like these. Sit next to the employee for one day and capture all actions, requests, meetings, interrupts, … of the day. When he switches tasks add a lead time of, for example, 5 minutes to it and categorize it as non-value adding (waste). At the end of the day add up all the wastes and express it in percentage of time. When the numbers speak, you have a burning platform.

How to handle the problem?

Once you’ve got buy-in, you can start with discussing the problem. Do a root cause analysis to find the real causes of the problem: why are colleagues interrupting your work so much? Or SMARTer: “why are colleagues interrupting my work so I loose 1,5 hours each day by task switching?”.

Typical improvement actions range from coaching, peer coaching, training and mentoring for junior colleagues, product usage demonstrations by business and technical demonstrations.

In extreme cases, you can apply concepts like the cockpit and quarantine. The “cockpit principle” for example is used in the flying industry: during take off and landing the pilots need to be very focussed on achieving success and putting the plain up/down in a safe way. To ensure this the agreement is made not to speak during these critical moments with the only exception when safety is at risk.

In the Agile literature I’ve come across of some application of the cockpit principle where IT workers use flags, mascots and other indicators that they cannot be interrupt for a while, unless for really urgent problems.

But first, let’s look at the root causes before putting on your captain’s hat.

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