Coaching students–what I learnt

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Last year I tried something a bit different and was the “Agile Coach” for the 3rd year university students for their industry project. Throughout the year, I coached (I prefer mentored as coach makes me think of PE at school which I hated) around 70 different teams of students. It was very intense was I found it so much fun!

Now that I reflect back, it was interesting to see the common patterns that occurred in the teams and how most of the things are relevant to most teams today. I thought I’d list the top 5 that were common.


Pick Up The Phone

At first I put this down to a generational thing but then when I looked around the workplace and thought about some problems projects had had it seems to be common everywhere. Many of the groups were having trouble getting information/feedback from their users. They’d tried Facebook, email etc. and seemed ready to give up.

“Have you tried calling them?” – Blank stares.

It’s really easy to fall into the email/message trap when either picking up the phone or walking 10 metres to another cubicle will get you better results, faster.

When asking for feedback, give them a deadline

This one I see everywhere…You’ve sent the client and email / or had a meeting and asked for feedback. Then nothing…we’re waiting with no response.

Most of us are busy, many people are drowning in email and feedback requests. If we generically ask for feedback it’s easy to slip down our list in priority.  I’ve had a lot of success by a small change in my emails to telling them specifically when I need something i.e.

Team,

Please find attached xxxx document for review. Please provide feedback by COB YYYYYYYY date

Specifically for the students a lot of the time it’s an additional piece of feedback that is required for their marks and not specific to the solution their building. Adding to the date, telling them why it’s an important document / feedback makes a difference.

Ask the question

When you want or need something and you think you might get turned down, it’s easy to talk yourself into a state of don’t say anything.

Ask – the worst thing is they can say no, and you won’t be any worse off. I can’t remember who made me wise to this in my younger years, but thank you! I’ve lost track of number I times I’ve remembered this advice, sheepishly asked for something I thought was too troublesome, and surprised by a yes and am so glad I headed that advice.

Of course, it’s not always yes – it has also been anywhere from no, a compromise, to yes but I can’t think of a time that there’s been anything negative for asking the question (when phrased politely etc.)

Give your opinion

You’ve taken a certain direction, you don’t think it’s right, what do you do?  I see this a lot with non-technical clients who’s nephew said they needed to use a technology. It totally doesn’t fit with what they need for their business. I think you’re ethically bound in this situation to give your opinion on where that advice might be incorrect. If they choose to go ahead – at least you’ve warned them of the risks.

This gets trickier when you’re the junior on a team and it’s the team that made a decision. Hopefully your team allows you to at least ask why something is the way it is and express what you thought so at they can explain why the decision has been made. Many times, there’s other pieces to the puzzle you aren’t exposed to and this can help put things into perspective.

Talk about what you’re stuck on

We all get stuck sometimes. Many times the teams just need help breaking a problem down into smaller, manageable pieces that they can tackle. Many times they just don’t know where to start or are spinning their wheels.

How many times have you turned to a team member for help and don’t get past the “Can I ask you to look at …. got it…don’t worry….thanks”. This can be especially hard if you don’t have a team with you everyday. When I did a lot of work from home alone, I’d often say out loud to my dog what I was stuck on, or later to noone in particular. Just that switch in your brain of vocalising the problem you’re having, what you looked at seems to open other parts of the brain and you’ve solved it!

What did I learn? A lot of it was re-learning and remembering for me – the problems you have on small uni assignments don’t stop there, you get these in every day real life. The fundamentals are still the same 20 years later. The technology and method of approach can be different but most of the re-occurring issues are the same.