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Q&A with Geoff Watts

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Geoff Watts, Agile Coach, Mentor and Trainer of Leadership and Agility.

How could you describe your career path in a few words? Emergent. I started off as a classically trained (waterfall) project manager who didn’t follow the rules just because. I did what I thought made sense and ended up being one of the first Scrum Masters in Europe. Having experience of coaching change in a large organisation meant I had a lot to share with other organisations looking to change so had the opportunity to develop my teaching, public speaking and then writing skills. I became the first Certified Scrum Trainer and Certified Enterprise Coach in Europe and have advised and helped organisations in industries such as finance, pharma, gaming, manufacturing and publishing.  I have written some of the most widely recommended books on agile and coaching including Scrum Mastery and The Coach’s Casebook as well as delivered keynote talks across the world. 

When very un-agile scaling frameworks began gaining traction I co-created ORGANIC agility to help organisations get the benefits of agility throughout the company in a more agile way. Also in an attempt to disrupt the surface-level certification industry I also founded Agile Mastery Institute to enable deeper learning for agile professionals.  Coaching has always been my primary passion and so I continue to coach leaders from all domains and industries on a 1-2-1 basis.  I was always someone who just said “yes” whenever an opportunity came up and then figured out a way to adapt so that I could achieve it.

How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years? Over the last two or three years I think things have regressed. Many companies have taken a lot of shortcuts and become less people focussed. They feel they have been forced to do more with less and so have compromised on some of the key roles and practices that make agility work. Then they wonder why they aren’t getting the benefits they hoped. I think COVID had a big part to play on this and the subsequent remote working trend has contributed to a reversion to process over people and a drop in trust and therefore empowerment.  I’m seeing a recent trend of companies putting the responsibilities that were until recently the remit of dedicated agile coaches and scrum masters on to delivery or people managers. This could be a good thing ultimately but also could undermine the potential benefits of agility. 

What successful cases of agile transformations have you had the opportunity to observe that have particularly stood out to you? I don’t actually believe there have been any successful agile transformations anywhere. I believe many companies have evolved to different degrees of agility. Some of them have endured cycles of progress and then regression before progressing again. There is no end state to transform too. Successful companies realise they are in a never-ending process of transition: of inspecting and adapting. Organisations are too complex to say “let’s scale agile throughout the organisation” hence why we co-created ORGANIC agility to help companies evolve their model based on the variety of contexts within their unique setup

Will agile practices continue to generate interest? What challenges do you see in the context of deploying these practices? Complexity and ambiguity is not going away. The speed and volatility of change is not going to reduce. Therefore, companies are still going to need the skills, mindset and supporting infrastructure for greater agility deeply throughout the organisation. The companies that really embrace this will do better than those that take the easy decisions to only change on the surface level. I believe we will see another swing towards a greater people focus again and an appreciation of the benefits that dedicated agile professionals and coaches bring. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. 

Bio: Geoff Watts is one of the most experience agile and leadership coaches in the world. An award-winning and respected author, keynote and TEDx speaker he coaches leaders and their organisations to become more resilient, coherent and effective in complex environments. 

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