We launched our Fresh Agile Voices segment in October 2020. Fresh Agile Voices features brief interviews of agile coaches that include people of color, women, and others who are experts in agility. I want to do what I can to amplify the voices of those experts in our field who might otherwise not be heard.
Our third installment of Fresh Agile Voices features my interview with Dr. CK Taneja. I have known CK for a few years now and had the opportunity to work with him and learn from him back in 2018. Please watch my brief interview with CK to learn more about his unusual background, how he got into coaching, and what advice he would offer to other coaches.
Transcript of FAVs Episode 3
Anthony: Well, it’s my pleasure to introduce you today to Dr. CK. Taneja, my guest for the Fresh Agile Voices series. I’ve known CK for almost exactly two years. We met at the agile coaching summit in Chicago in 2018 and the very first thing that struck me about him was his appearance. He’s a little bit like a James Bond character, and he’s always very smartly dressed, very dapper.
Not today, but typically he has a kerchief in his pocket and extremely well-groomed appearance. But appearances aside, the second thing I noticed was how carefully CK chose his words when he spoke and just the wisdom that he was able to share. And I remember saying to myself, I’ve got to work with this guy. And within two months, I think it was, we were working together.
So welcome CK. Why don’t you start, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you were born and where you grew up.
CK: Thank you, Anthony, for inviting me onto your show. It’s a pleasure working with you first in the work and out here in the show.
So I was born in India, a very small village. That’s where I was born. And then I grew up in different parts of India and started working overseas. I have lived in about 17 countries. Oh my gosh. That’s a lot. Yes.
Anthony: So where did you end up starting your career? And did you start in technology or as a developer or where, you know, how did you work your way into agile coaching, but let’s start with your first job.
CK: So, first job would be very difficult. In my seventh grade, I started my first job as repairing bicycles. I was not good at education, as an academic. So my father thought that, if I did some skills that would help me. So I started up as a bicycle repair person, then moved into motorbike repairs, started working in, by the time I got to my 11th grade or, high school, I was working in a factory manufacturing TVs.
And so, yeah, then I had helped running a factory of manufacturing PVC pipes that my uncle had. And, then moved into a hardware door to door, computer repairs, and then into a COBOL programmer.
Anthony: Oh my gosh. That’s quite a circuitous path.
CK: Yeah, yeah. So, but all of that actually helped me because, and I think the work in the manufacturing, training and technology, working in the bicycle repair shop, where people come to you because they have, they don’t have money to repair their bicycles, that otherwise they would go in and get the new one and you’re fixing things. So you learn how to find corners, find the easier ways, understand the customer, what they want within their budget and do things. And that kind of help me, get into the agile way of thinking. It is what we call and it has been there for long.
Anthony: Wow. That’s awesome. And how did you go from there into becoming an agile coach? So COBOL programmer to coaching?
CK: So coaching came much later but Agile came into my life in about 1997 timeframe. Of course I didn’t know about Agile. What I knew about at that time was Lean. So I was working with Singapore Telecoms and, we had two projects, which had been a total failure. One project, 300 people working on it for two years. But that time I was a British telecom employee, working at Singapore telecom.
And after two years, the project did not deliver what it was supposed to. And we were moved out. Later on, I was a Singtel employee, six years later, and a Singapore telecom employee. We had hired a company to deliver a software and they delivered the software after one and a half years, and that could not sustain itself.
So, and that was a time when we were having competition. So the company asked me, what are we going to do? And I said that probably we need to bring in lean thinking, because I had read a book on Toyota production, TPS. And, I said that, they follow Lean and we are probably introducing waste. The organization changes quickly, environment changes quickly.
We need to probably develop software faster and achieve, see something. I had not heard of agile, I had not done anything, we didn’t do stand-ups, but basically they started giving more power to the team members and building the team. That worked well. 1999, I came to US my first, my entry into the US and I was working with a software company in Champaign, Illinois.
We were doing telecom billing for various companies. Again, started adopting the same methodology of waste cutting. And, in about end of ‘99, I started my own company and slowly I started realizing that I was less of a doer. I had enjoyed doing the things lot, but it was coming to what I was doing was helping others develop. So maybe coaching was the way to go.
And, because all through my career, I was developing people to become better off their selves. So, in about 2008, after doing multiple startups, selling off the company and going through the process, I decided I’m no longer going to be driving. I’m going to be sitting aside and letting people grow, help them grow. And so I got into teaching education, mentoring and coaching.
Anthony: Wow. That’s quite a journey. Somewhere in there you got your PhD, correct?
CK: Yes, I did. Third attempt of PhD. I tried it three times because I wanted to be a doctor. So as a child, I used to write my name as Dr. CK.
CK: But, I could not be a medicine doctor because studies I’m not good. So I opted for PhD and yes in 1999 is when I completed my PhD.
Anthony: Wow. That’s awesome. Congratulations. So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the obstacles or challenges that you face. Obviously you weren’t born in the US, you’re a person of color, you’re a non-native English speaker. I imagine you probably speak more than two languages. Right?
CK: Yes, I do.
Anthony: And so working as an agile coach in the U S what are some challenges or obstacles that you might be facing? The things that I would have taken for granted.
CK: One of the challenge, or the only challenge is, when you apply for a job. Because, the recruiters want to know that are you somebody who has worked in the US, are you from the US background and those things, just because if it’s taken for granted that if you are not from here, you may have some visa challenges, or you may have, the problems with language or things like that. But whenever I’ve gone into the one work environment, I have not seen any problems there. And I think that is because, once you demonstrate your knowledge, you are accepted. And currently in the American world, when I go around, most of these companies have so much diversity in the culture, in the gender. I don’t see that now. It is like 20 years ago when I came in. Yes, it was a very different environment. And probably I was forced at that time. I did not fell into the trap, that you have to learn the American style of speaking or, have to speak about the soccer, not about soccer at, we used to talk about soccer, but talk about American football and, how things baseball. But now that is not the case. I think things have changed in 20 years. I do hear people talking about, this, the differentiation that they see now. Also, maybe I compare it to 20 years ago when I came in or 21 years ago, I don’t see that anymore.
Anthony: So that’s great that at least from your perspective things are getting better.
CK: Oh, definitely. It has improved a lot.
Anthony: So what advice would you give to other people who are interested in becoming an agile coach? What tips or advice would you have for them?
CK: So I think, it’s about, any coaching is about two things:
One is the subject matter, where you have, that variety of agile frameworks and, this idea of environment. So having knowledge of each one of them, I find, when I work in the industry, many people come knowing only one framework and they think that it’s is the framework to be applied to the organization, which makes it tougher.
Because the organization may not be ready or may one framework may be better than the other framework or a hybrid, maybe better for the organization. So, having more tools in your tool box and knowing how to use your tools is probably one major aspect of coaching.
The other aspect of coaching is about people. Because when we go out and coach, we are coaching the people and these individuals can be categorized into various different backgrounds and processes. And they have their own experiences that they have come through. So you are not going to change them overnight. And, we are not there to change them.
We are there to help them evolve. So having empathy towards them, having the competencies to excite them, to make them feel safe and move from the existing style of working to the newer style of working, helping them unlearn, relearn and, act on what they have learned on, how to help appreciate what they will be moving towards are little steps of success. Rather than thinking about everybody will move at the same pace. Everybody would get perfection are the things that one has to take care of. So I think it is the coaching competency, the human relations part of it, and the agile knowledge of all the different frameworks.
Anthony: CK Thank you so much for your time today. How can people get ahold of you if they want to just connect with you and have a conversation, or if they want to work with you, what would be the best way to get in touch with you?
Anthony: That’s awesome. CK, thank you so much for your time today. I look forward to working with you again and learning from you and just having the chance to spend time together.
CK: Thank you very much. Thank you for the opportunity.