How it is to be an Agile Coach intern at Spotify

It all started in the middle of April, I had been studying agile for 7 months at a school called Agile Academy and it was time to spread my wings and do the internship. The first week at Spotify was filled with all the things I’ve only read about in books; there were boards everywhere, retrospectives going on in meeting rooms and real-life POs!

From day one I was invited to different kinds of meetings and workshops. Just by grabbing a soda people said hi and invited me to see how they worked. It felt so amazing with the openness and all the friendly people. By not having my own team to concentrate on I got to meet most of the teams in the tech department at the Stockholm office and learnt so much. One day I could be in a brainstorm session with a squad, another day be in a workshop for POs. On all these different kinds of meetings I had three questions in mind:

“What’s good with this meeting?”
“What could be improved?”
“Why should it be improved?”

This was a good way for me to better understand how the teams at Spotify work and also an easier way for me to be more observant and get answers to my questions after the meeting. By participating in the meetings I could also support the Agile Coaches with an outsider’s perspective.

Agile Coach at Spotify

After a couple of weeks as an observer and participant I got to try out the role as an Agile Coach. “But what’s really the role of the agile coach, what does she do?” was a common question I got.

Well, the main purpose is to help the teams to become high performing and improve the process and workflow.

The Agile manifesto values:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

For me this feels like a natural thing to do, but just because something feels natural doesn’t mean it’s easy to comprehend. And this is where the Agile Coach comes in. I’ve heard people say that to be good at something, you first have to follow the rules, then change them and lastly ignore them. That’s where I think Spotify is, there is even an “Agile a la Spotify” manifesto.

So how do Agile Coaches work?

  • Observe, interact and facilitate meetings.
  • Teach Agile.
  • Coach teams, squads, and individuals to high performance.

When I came to Spotify I had just passed the scrum master test and got a certificate. I mostly knew about scrum and less about agile coaching. It was fascinating to see how much an Agile Coach actually does coach. From thinking that the Agile Coach was a leader, someone people should follow, to see that she actually is a person more in the background. The Agile Coach is not here to solve your problems for you, or answer your questions, she is there to coach you to high performance by teaching agile and challenging you to think for yourself.

Summer internship students 2013

My internship experience

It all started with me and my mentors doing a futurespective; what is it that I want to learn and how should we get there? We decided to start with me observing meetings, workshops and standups to get basic knowledge about how the different teams and processes works. After a couple of weeks I took every opportunity I could find to try it out and do it on my own and that led to me e.g. facilitate retrospectives in different teams, facilitate a book club on Lyssa Adkins’ “Coaching Agile teams”, coach Agile to three boot camps, and at the end I even got my own team!

I spent a lot of my time on researching and reading up on Agile, but the greatest learning experiences came from putting myself in new situations e.g. coaching individuals. Working with people is complex, you can never predict what will happen which is scary as hell but at the same time very interesting and fun!

Icebreaker

I’ve also learnt more practical stuff like different ways of facilitating meetings, most of all retrospectives, once I tried an icebreaker before the retrospective that were about people writing two notes were they write something crazy/unexpected about themselves and then people have to guess who did what, it ended up with a lot of fun facts. It’s always good to start a meeting with an icebreaker, it doesn’t have to be as big as this one, but something that makes everyone feel more comfortable from the start.

Retrospective

While doing retrospectives I wanted to try out a lot of different ways in how to facilitate meetings, so e.g. I tried  “the four L’s retrospective”, “mad, sad and glad” and “the sailing boat”. Retros are mostly about reflection – what’s going well, what is not going that well, what or how can we improve, and what actions should we take? It’s really important to reflect in order to grow and become better at what you do, but I think that one of the most important parts with it is the follow up; did we really improve what we talked about last time? If not – why, and what can we do to make it happen?

Retrospective

Kanban

One of my new favourite things is Kanban. Kanban is really good when you want to learn fast from your previous experiences, and also when you do not want to plan too much upfront – you might not need what you thought was important when you’ve seen the outcome of an other story. But one of the most important things with Kanban which really appeals to me is that it makes it easier to focus – get rid of that multitasking! Having many things in progress might seem to be good at the time because it looks like we’re doing a lot… But it isn’t necessarily that good if we’re not completing things – unfinished stories don’t bring any value. So if you work together to get things done and stop multitasking it brings more value to the client and it also makes the team move forward faster, more engaged and motivated.

Lean coffee

Lean coffee was also a new thing for me, it’s a good tool when you have a lot to talk about, if you need to sync and also in new groups when people might be scared about taking too much initiative. By letting everyone share the subjects they want to talk about, then prioritize them and timebox the discussions you’ll hopefully won’t be distracted and get the most value out of the discussion.

Spotify has been an eye-opener and I’ve never felt so welcomed anywhere as I’ve felt here.
One of the things that I really will take with me (which is something I hear a lot in the office) is an echo in my head that says “You can always improve!”.

Street team

When my internship came to an end I got the question if I wanted to join Spotify’s Street team (students that work with marketing and communication between their schools and Spotify), and of course I said “YES!” So now I’m working in the Street team and we recently organized the first Swedish student tech conference; Student Techfest.
101 students came from around the country for a two-day gathering full of inspiration, lightning talks, networking and a whole load of tech sessions at the Spotify office.

The opportunities Spotify gives students are really amazing and I’m proud over being part of their team and being able to have had my internship there. If you want to apply for an internship program at Spotify, please visit our job page and see what’s out there for you!