Paul Thornton
Paul Thornton

FUEL the debate

Have you ever been in one of those meetings with purely a subject line and little else? Wondering not only what the purpose is, but what the desired outcome may be? Or, in one of those open-ended discussions that go down rabbit holes, drifting into the dark abyss?

Well, I was recently invited to join a client session with little more than a subject line, relating to Agile Delivery Maturity, specifically on the subject of Continuous Delivery, Continuous Integration, and Automated Testing. I was keen for the session to be as effective as possible and the FUEL coaching model came to mind.

The FUEL model is a technique I sometimes use when donning my coaching hat, which I have found to be highly productive and encourages an effective session. The model was introduced to me by Jim Clemmer, developed by John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett and detailed in their book “The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow“.

So, what is the FUEL Coaching Model?

The four steps in this model:

1. Focus/Frame

Set the context and focus for the conversation. Agree on the following for the discussion:

  • Purpose – what’s the purpose of this session?
  • Outcome – what are the desired outcomes we’re looking to achieve?
  • Process – what is the process we’re going to use to achieve the outcomes?

Purpose, Outcome, Process, or POP, is something I’m always mindful of when organising any meeting or workshop.  I endeavour to ensure each of these things are made as clear as possible in the invite in addition to reviewing with the group at the start of the session.

2. Understand

Help participants gain a deeper understanding of the current situation. Asking the following types of open-ended questions can help facilitate this:

  • How is the current situation impacting you?
  • What is currently working well?
  • How is this situation impacting you / others?
  • What direction do you see this going?
  • What can be improved?

3. Expand/Explore

In this step, we start exploring where we want to end up. To help them see what success looks like – the vision / north star. The vision ultimately assists with forming the action plan. Some questions to assist the exploration:

  • What does it feel like to be at the desired state?
  • What are some approaches you could take?
  • How do you see the desired state?
  • Any obstacles?

4. Layout

This is where a success plan is drawn up, at least of immediate next steps, possibly in some form of specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound (SMART) objectives. Milestones should be captured and individuals should look to create their own action plan to reach the outcomes.

Some guiding questions:

  • What specific actions are necessary to achieve the goal?
  • Do we have all the steps?
  • Is the plan achievable?
  • Any support required?
  • Do you feel comfortable with the plan?

I don’t always state that I’m applying this technique. For instance, I may apply it passively to invoke the appropriate conversation, to gain a mutual deeper understanding, to guide it and to explore nuances. Ultimately, steering it to some form of clear and agreeable way forward.

I recently applied it on what could have been quite an open ended conversation, relating to Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery. As a result, and through appropriate staging I was able to focus the session on the most important and valuable thing to those in attendance.

After that, ask guiding questions to help all gain a better understanding of the problem. In addition, leveraging Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 Whys technique to expand and explore, I was able to lay out a mutually agreeable success plan to move things forward in the appropriate direction. As a result, the session proved effective and high fives were abundant!

FUEL the debate and give it a go yourselves…

Check out Jim’s video to learn more:

Get in touch with Paul Thornton

Paul was one of a small number of people who instigated Sky’s (UK) move to Scrum and the digitisation of their services (such as Sky Go, Sky News, and the award winning Sky Sports app), across web and mobile (this was later mirrored by Foxtel so you can thank him for Foxtel Go!).

He has a wealth of experience having worked for leading bluechip companies (Trinity Mirror, Elsevier, Sky, UKTV) over the past 20 years and comes from computer science, software engineering, web development background – still loves to dabble with new tech when given the chance.

Being a long term believer and practitioner of agile principles and extreme programming practices over the past 14 years, has given him the ability to oversee the success of large and complex agile programs whilst also coaching the improvement of the team’s technical practices.

Get in touch