Interview with Scrum Coach- Dhaval Panchal

Dhaval Panchal is a certified SCRUM coach and trainer based in Seattle. With a background in software development, business analysis, lean office implementations, system architecture, and project management – he has moved on to become a successful coach. While his background in project management still helps him out, his greatest payback as a coach is the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and learn from them.

You worked in IT and then moved to SCRUM coaching, tell us how this happened?
Fresh out of college I was hired by one of the tech giants in the Indian IT space. Within the first four years working with them I was completely burned out and mostly disheartened with the antiquated management practices and  “chalta hai” management approach. The morale was extremely low and many passionate intelligent peers either escaped to B-Schools or found alternative employment opportunities. I was prepared to leave the IT industry but was hopeful that there is a better way. I interviewed and got hired by my present company (8 years ago). They were pursuing scrum and extreme programming (XP) as alternatives to build software.

I started scrumming and played variety of roles in the projects that were outsourced to us. In each of our outsourced projects I actively pursued and attempted to influence my client’s understanding of scrum. So in many respects I have always been coaching. 

To me coaching is a skill and not a title. With the explosive adoption of scrum in the IT industry, for the last 5 years, I have been involved in change management helping to transition organizations to an agile business and delivery model. My coaching skills are extremely useful in helping my clients cope with the pain that accompanies any organizational change.

Do you enjoy working as a coach- 3 things you wish you knew when you started coaching.
  • Listen more talk less -We all have two ears and one mouth. It took me a while to realize that I should be using them in the same proportion. Earlier as I would engage in a conversation when hearing the other, mentally I would be calculating a response even before the other person has finished speaking. This analytical bent was a huge handicap and as I have progressed to improve on my listening skills I now tune into the person speaking and their context to appreciate their situation. Often times people talk themselves through their problem and appreciate my patient listening that helped them through.
  • Coach the person not the problem- IT is a problem solving field and the industry is self selecting for people who can solve problems. This has ironically led to a common pattern. “most people in our industry can tolerate a problem but cannot live with a solution that they do not understand.” This erodes trust and is detrimental to people’s ability to own and resolve their own problems. As I engage with my clients in complex IT  and people change management issues I intentionally stay away from prescribing solutions and focus on the person and help them sharpen their problem solving skills. It is more about teaching a person to fish than catching a fish for them.
  • I can always walk out- I take a lot of pride in my work and aspire to better myself. It took me a while to recognize that I do not have to be a good fit for everyone. Now I recognize situations and people better where I may not be a good fit as a consultant and choose not to engage.
Tell us any incident or moment of inspiration that has kept you in coaching.

Being a catalyst to help form high performing teams and great products is my passion and I have a lot of heart for enabling organizations and people to find fulfillment in their pursuit. Although there isn’t any specific moment or incident, it is an heart warming experience for me to hear appreciations from people who I had worked with many many months ago. To be remembered, recognized and appreciated for my work long after my work is done is my greatest reward.

Do you use your experience in project management for your coaching now?
Yes, my experience in project management is helpful for me to appreciate the context of PM folks who are interested in agile product delivery approach.

A lot of traditional PM style and approach is anti-agile and requires much unlearning to break away from the command-and-control mindset that fosters a belief in magic. Getting to deal with the day to day realities of product delivery and the challenges is overwhelming and the realities of innovative rapid product delivery cycles demand a high performing team of individuals as opposed to the “hero” project manager that saves the day.

Getting PM’s to abandon their heroic pursuits and collaborate as peers in a team based context is a challenge where my past background with PM comes in handy.

Where can we find more information about your coaching?

My blog:

Thank you Dhaval!


scrum coach said...

It was nice reading this blog. The Scrum Master's role is more that of coach and facilitator, a role that sits between the project and the customer.