Coaching Like “Columbo”: Simple Questions to Start Tough Conversations

Small compromises in Agile practices can ultimately lead to major impacts on team health and their ability to deliver valuable solutions to users. Unfortunately, between getting lost down in the weeds of technology creation and the natural human tendency to postpone or avoid uncomfortable discussions, it’s easy to lose sight of how a shortcut today may kill a team (or even an entire company) down the road.


Working in teams, participants will explore the links between Agile and Scrum principles, and tangible results that come from sacrifing aspects of those approaches, using the approach of beloved American TV detective, “Columbo:” Ask a simple question, and then tease apart all the justifications and excuses when the answer is less than ideal. The author will first lead the entire room through a discussion of one seven basic questions about Scrum performance, with the goal of identifying healthy and unhealthy responses, and identifying what behaviors and dynamics would support each state. Working in groups, participants will tackle another question in the same manner on their own. The session will conclude with time-boxed presentation and discussion of each group’s findings.

1 favorite thumb_down thumb_up 2 comments visibility_off  Remove from Watchlist visibility  Add to Watchlist

Outline/Structure of the Workshop

  1. A short (6 slide) presentation is given to introduce the topic and explain the mechanics of the game that participants will play. 
  2. Each table is then assigned one of the 'Columbo Questions', given a time box to develop good and bad answers, and identify supporting practices that lead to those outcomes.
  3. The presenter then leads a debrief discussion asking each team to present their results, and asking the room for additional input and practices that might be relevant.

Learning Outcome

Participants will learn linkages between common lapses in core Scrum practices and undesirable outcomes and discover a number of behaviors that can support desirable outcomes. Participants will leave with the ‘Seven Easy Questions’ for use in team and organizational coaching back in their own organizations.

Target Audience

People with working knowledge of Scrum, or other prevailing Team-level Agile frameworks.

schedule Submitted 5 years ago

Public Feedback

comment Suggest improvements to the Speaker
  • George Dinwiddie
    By George Dinwiddie  ~  5 years ago
    reply Reply

    Oops! The session slots were supposed to be 30 & 60 minutes, not 60 & 90. Is there any way this could be shortened to 60? I realize that might be tough, and perhaps we can come up with another solution.

    • Dr. Patrick McConnell
      By Dr. Patrick McConnell  ~  5 years ago
      reply Reply

      No problem.  I can compress the timeline pretty easily.  I've updated the session to be 60 minutes.