Meet Your Coach, Ian Merwin!

AgileFire Co-Founder & Senior Transformation Consultant

Why did you get into coaching and leading Lean & Agile transformations?

Ian Merwin profile photo

I’m a big believer in this concept of stumbling into happiness. I got into Lean, Agile, change, help, support, advisory, coaching, training, consulting, whatever you want to call it, I stumbled into it, and I absolutely love it. This is what I love to do, so it’s not a job for me. Lean and Agile transformations and coaching are really fun for me.

My transformation started way back with print media when I had a printing and publishing company. I felt like the end of print media was coming, and it’s going to be digital. Everything is going to be online. So I was like, “Hmmm… I wonder how you put stuff on the internet because the internet is pretty new for real estate,” and I started looking into websites and web scripting and all that entailed. This was before all the frameworks we have nowadays. JavaScript back then was from the pits of hell, and you avoided it. You had to learn CGI and PHP and other server-side skills to get a website up. I started learning, and I became interested in software development.

A couple of jobs later, I ended up at a company that was struggling with releases, and they had big batches… huge batches. When they finally would release the software, they spent months, like six months fixing what felt like thousands and thousands of bugs. In that organization, they said, “Well, we’re going to do something different. We’re going to try this Agile thing. Any volunteers for Scrum Masters?” It’s funny, I had run into a Scrum Master a few years earlier at another company that was introducing Scrum at a lunch-and-learn, and it was eye-opening. I now had this opportunity, “Oh man, I would absolutely love to try to be one of the first Scrum Masters in this organization.” I got sent to Certified Scrum Master training, and that was the beginning of it.

“…how I could actually make an impact in these organizations. How do I actually be a part of a genuine transformation?”

The next phase of my journey came about because I got tired of and a bit bored with just Scrum meeting after Scrum meeting, and I also had multiple teams. I became interested in how I could actually make an impact in these organizations. How do I actually be a part of a genuine transformation? I reached out to a friend at Rally Software and asked how you started doing what you do? How do you scale Agile? I got an invite to interview at Rally, which blew me away. There’s no way in heck I could become a part of this family because they’re a top-shelf group. I was one of four people hired out of 200 candidates to join during the last round of Rally’s hiring before they were acquired.

I’ve grown and grown and grown since that moment. It’s been five years or so since then. Lean and Agile transformations and coaching are just awesome. I’ve worked with some of the most amazing people and made a lot of friends and met beautiful people out there at these different organizations. Whether it’s medical, financial, or oil and gas, you name it, we’ve helped them. The problems are very similar. It’s just in the context and the people around the problem that we have to try to work towards.

That’s how I stumbled into this world of Agile, I stumbled into my happiness, and I’m a believer in that. That’s all I got to say, folks!

Why do you enjoy coaching and training professionals? What do you enjoy the most?

It really goes back to our tagline that we came up with, that was really an observation of the journey. Equip. Inspire. Ignite.

Equipping is really that fundamental training. Hey, here’s the tools to put in your toolbox, but that doesn’t make you a master carpenter, a plumber, or an electrician. It’s a toolbox with some tools that we give you.

The cool part of that is as we’re equipping people in these organizations, they get inspired, and that’s the second part of our pack you get inspired. We hear back from trainees, “Wow, I see what these tools can do in my organization. If I can get good at these tools, I can really make a difference in my culture.” A lot of organizations struggle with employee engagement and culture. So, I love providing them with the inspiration, the tools, and then the coaching support, mentoring, and advising. Supporting them as they get stronger and stronger with these tools and they legitimately make a difference in their organization.

Seeing the changes in teams, seeing the changes in the culture, seeing just the lift and ignition. More productivity, not people working harder, but more productive with their time and actually deliver more value. When they used to say, “This is stupid, why are we working this?” If we inspired the right people in the organization and provided them with quality tools, then they won’t be doing wasteful work. It will really ignite their workflow.

There are all kinds of cool things that come into play when coaching, and then ultimately, we just enjoy making a difference in the world. I know it sounds lofty, but as a coach, you are genuinely making a difference in people’s lives.

What do you enjoy most about being a transformation advisor?

What do I enjoy the most? There’s this concept that organizations like consulting companies often position themselves as being the hero that’s going to come in and save the day, and that’s just not true. The client needs to be the hero. So when AgileFire is working with a company, the organization, and people we work with, those are the superheroes. If you look back at Batman, there’s Alfred; you look at Iron Man there’s Jarvis; look at Spider-Man there’s Ned. The movie Spider-Man Homecoming really brings this home and introduces the concept of the guy in the chair, that’s Ned. The superhero movies there’s that guy or gal in the chair that is away from the danger. Let me be the guy in the chair for you. I personally am not going to be hurt if things go wrong, but I deeply care that the superhero survives, and not only that they survive, they save the day, and that’s the “guy in the chair” analogy. We at AgileFire believe we’re the guy in the chair to your superhero. We’re not the superhero. We’re not the ones risking life and limb, you know, but we are very invested in making sure that our heroes not only succeed but flourish. “So turn left. Turn right, do this. Hey, do you think about that? Hey, remember you got this tool?” Yeah, even James Bond had Q.

The client needs to be the hero. So when we’re working with a company, the organization, and people we work with, those are the superheroes.

I can give an example that will bring it home. Working with marketing at a general merchandise company, the entire marketing organization within this huge general merchandising company. They were feeling the grind of the same-old-same-old lack of master and autonomy. There wasn’t a lot of purpose or feeling of engagement. We do a lot of wasteful work, and a lot of things take forever. There are many things we could just eliminate and make it better. Working with them, AgileFire isn’t the superhero, we’re the person in the chair. This client needed to be the superhero, they just need some guidance. I brought a few tools out of the toolbox to guide them. We did a value stream mapping exercise with this very large team and only a few suggestions. This is a really large team. What if we were to make it into smaller teams that collaborated and what if we looked at our work and we try to improve it. I just inspired them to say what crazy radical things we could do to make things better? Where’s the waste? What can we eliminate? The change agent in the company we worked with pushed them to come up with some really crazy ideas. They pulled a few things off. They’re like, “well, we wouldn’t do this, and we wouldn’t do this, and we would like to shrink that timeline and compress it so that we’re making decisions when we need to make them instead of all this fluff. Can we do that? That would be freaking amazing!” After getting an okay from management, a 13-week process went down to three days, and it wasn’t AgileFire that did it, it was their team. It was just me facilitating, pulling some tools out of the toolbox, and those people were elated. They were giddy. We brought so much joy to them, and it bought so much more time, and now they could be more creative, elaborate, and innovative where before it was grind, grind, grind.

When you see that joy on people’s faces, that’s why I do it.