What does it mean when we think about the ROI (Return on Investment) of Technical Coaching? Usually, the expectation is that investing in a technical coach in a short time will significantly transform the team, and the situation will completely change or grow. But the reality is that it takes a long time to achieve this change, and it may take more investment at the beginning before you start to see results. In some cases, performance may drop in the initial coaching phase because there is an adaptation process to go through. With this analysis, José Enrique Rodríguez Huerta, Technical Coach, began a session in which he explained how to measure our technical coaching effort's impact and return on investment.
" We have to find a balance between what we invest and how it affects the productivity of the team," he explained. The balance between training and delivery is difficult because they are two opposing actions; when a person learns a new skill, they will deliver less. Still, possibly after the training stage, he/she will be able to do it faster and better.
Rodríguez Huerta recommends looking for small, short-term results demonstrating the return on investment of that learning effort so that the business area can see the progress.
What gets in the way of ROI
ROI is a financial term for measuring the return on our investment and is usually associated with a quantifiable result. Here we analyze some aspects that prevent the ROI of Technical Coaching from manifesting itself quickly or slowing down the task somehow.
- Fear of change. A technical coaching process proposes a change in a team or a project. Still, it is usually intended to alter a state to, for example, improve delivery processes or apply good practices. This usually generates questioning from the team that may block the initiative: Are they telling me I am doing things wrong? Do I need to learn new practices that require more effort? Etc. The important thing is to know that this resistance will exist, and understanding how the adaptation process works can help mitigate some of the problems.
- Code. Readability and complexity of code, whether it is tested or not, or architectural decisions that have already been made and are difficult to change
- Communication. Lack of domain clarity or context about historical decisions and whether knowledge silos exist in the team. Aspects such as cultural background or language differences also play a role.
- The business. The structure of the company (processes and governance, company location, etc.) and cultural alignment or misalignment also influence, for example, the competitor's value framework that exists.
- Processes and tools. If the team needs to update tools and frameworks or techniques and methods that do not fit for purpose. First, understand what actions are hindering the processes and identify what can be changed to improve performance.
How do you get the most ROI?
- The first and essential step is to identify the existing problems, for example, with tools such as SonarQube or Sync, which help to detect deficiencies. It is also crucial to talk to the team about their common doubts or biggest concerns, etc. Find hot spots in the code and monitor trends, such as delivery time or tests. A value stream map is a handy tool that helps to create a visual guide of a process to identify areas that can optimize value creation.
- Determine what value means to everyone. Unify that definition and, from there, have conversations about various aspects, such as the cost of delays, productivity, etc. Conversations that help establish a common value perspective allow time and priority to be assigned to each task. Break down actions and build incrementally; where we are and what steps we will take.
- Prioritize actions. After having several conversations, you will probably have a large backlog of tasks. You will need to prioritize them according to the criteria.
In summary, the process consists of identifying improvement opportunities, clarifying and refining them, prioritizing them, and executing them.
How do you connect the impact to the content?
Rodríguez Huerta explained the first thing is to review the content and the topics you can cover; this can include everything from how the business is structured and what the product is like, to the established practices and methodologies used to assess the quality of projects. "Once you have the analysis of the content you want to work on, do your value stream mapping and look for potential blockers or ROI generators," he continued. Then you have to link the content to specific actions that help generate impact. Break down each task into small steps that allow the team to move steadily toward a clear objective. A handy tool for this is Bloom's taxonomy.
How do you execute?
To conclude the session, Rodríguez Huerta offered some guidelines that can help facilitate the Technical Coaching task and achieve impact.
- Tiny habits. Break the task down to its core component. Rodríguez Huerta mentioned the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, who developed a method for what must happen to create a habit. The book describes that the more skill is required for a task, the less motivation there is to turn that activity into a habit. Therefore, it is necessary to break the habit into small actions requiring little motivation and then build on it. Two essential things to achieve this are establishing a good trigger for the action and changing the context to make it easier to create the habit.
- Reinforcement. Find some way to celebrate the behavior or changes you want to achieve. Create appropriate spaces to exchange experiences and opinions, and learn from mistakes as a team.
This meeting is part of a circuit on Technical Coaching; if you want to watch the entire session, you can find a link to the video below. If you want to review concepts and tools, we also share with you the miro board that Rodríguez Huerta used for his presentation. Also, remember that on our video page, you can review previous sessions on technical and team management topics.