Interview with Johanna Rothman

It was a pleasure having a conversation with Johanna Rothman, President of Rothman Consulting Group Inc. She is among those few people who has witnessed how Agile methodology has emerged over the period of time.

In our conversation Johanna discussed the difference between Coaching and Consulting, if Agile team hiring is different from regular hiring process and certain aspects of leadership.

Q1. I was going through your website and the first questions came to my mind was what is the difference between coaching and consulting. Please let us understand five major differences.

Johanna: When I coach people, I can do a deep dive into their concerns, challenges, actions, and reactions. We discuss the why’s, how’s and what’s for that individual person–both in their sphere of influence and outside that sphere. We take a system view to determine how the person can be effective.

When I consult, I take a system view for a team and an organization, not just the person. I work with more than one person, and often, more than one team.

Here are some differences:



One-on-one work. We work together. One-to-many work. I work with teams and managers across the organization.
We know our intended backlog, so we know what we will discuss. We don’t know the deliverables or the result. We know the client will try small experiments and report back. I structure consulting so we have defined results when we start working together. I know my deliverables.

I suggest experiments the client can do after this visit or in the future.

We discuss personal interactions in depth. Through the interpersonal, we discover the reinforcing loops and discuss them.

I often ask questions about the system(s) in the projects, but that’s not my focus.

Via the consulting (straight consulting or an assessment or a workshop), we discover reinforcing loops and discuss them in depth.

We might address specific interpersonal interactions if I notice them.

We design simulations or experiments together. I might have the client try a simulation I already designed.


There are some similarities, too:

  1. I often recommend people read and consider some specific writing to help them understand ideas we will or do discuss.
  2. We often draw pictures to see the situation(s).
  3. Sometimes, I create a simulation for the client to perform and report back.

Q2. What is the key to make geographically distributed agile project work?

Johanna: If I have to choose one thing, it’s respect. The team members need to learn to respect each other. The managers have to respect the team as a whole–no moving people in and out of the team.

The team decides how it will work–no one can mandate how the team will work. Yes, the team has a project to work on, but no one can tell a given team or team members how to work. The team decides all of that.

I am writing a book with Mark Kilby about geographically distributed agile teams now!

Q3. Is hiring an agile team any different from regular/general hiring?

Johanna: The short answer is No. 🙂 The longer answer is that the interpersonal skills are different for agile teams. We look for more collaboration, more willingness to experiment, more adaptability for agile team members.

In addition, an agile team must hire together. That doesn’t mean panel interviews–which are horrible–but developing and agreeing on the job analysis, understanding how to interview together, and how to agree on a candidate. The manager has to be involved, but agile hiring–at minimum–involves the team from interview to decision to hire.

Q4. In today’s world, how important is it to learn saying ‘No’ and end multitasking?

Johanna: The more work you have to do, the more you need to stop multitasking.

We have so many devices that can interrupt us, it’s even more critical than ever to stop multitasking on different work or different projects. I might be the only person in the world to turn off notifications when I’m focused on a project. I can’t stay in single-focus all day, but for an hour or two? I must. Or, I won’t finish anything.

I make my deliverables small, I focus on them until I finish, and then I pop back up.

It’s the same thing with everyone else. If you give yourself a chance to focus, finish something and then look around, you would find your throughput becomes more even and, at least for me,  higher.

For managers, this is even more important and more difficult. Managers make decisions that affect many more people than a team member does. Managers need to focus and finish something, and then do it again and again and again.

Q5. Give us insights on two scenarios when agile can go wrong.

Johanna: If a team isn’t interested in using agile approaches, agile is wrong for that team. If a manager wants a team to use agile approaches, first, invite the team to explain their position. I like to do this with open space.

Managers can try to mandate an agile approach. Even worse is when a well-meaning manager mandates a specific approach or a specific board.

However, agile approaches are a cultural change. People can’t successfully change their culture–especially to a collaborative approach–if they are told what to do and how to do it!

The second wrong is using an agile approach that doesn’t fit the team’s context. I see this when teams adopt a framework without looking at their context and team. (I wrote a whole book about this: Create Your Successful Agile Project: Collaborate, Measure, Estimate, Deliver.)

Q6. How important is storytelling when undergoing an agile transformation? Is it meant just for  leaders or managers or team or for all?

Johanna: People learn through stories. A story sets a context and explains the difficulties she encountered, what she tried, what worked and what didn’t, and where the situation is now. I love learning through stories and I love reading stories about what worked and didn’t work.

Everyone needs stories at various levels. If I’m a tester, I want to know how the testing worked. If I’m a manager, I want to know about all those projects and how the team collaborated with the customer. If I’m a requirements person, I want to know how the product owner worked and what happened.

Stories help us see the whys, hows, and whats to see if that situation fits our context.

Q7. Can situations make a person leader? When do you realize that a person has leadership skills/traits?

Johanna: Everyone has the possibility of being a leader. I have a different question: Does the culture of the organization encourage or discourage leadership? Here’s what I mean by leadership:

  • A person who realizes the current situation is not working or helpful for the person and/or the team.
  • A person who is ready to help the situation change.
  • A person who invites various approaches to change so the changes fit the situation.

I have a tendency to see a new possibility and say, “Let’s go there!” That is a form of leadership. It is not the only form. Sometimes, leaders are great facilitators. Sometimes, leaders help others understand why we should go there. Sometimes, leaders who have more empathy than ideas are even more successful.

There is no one right way to be a leader. What does the situation need? Can you help the situation? That’s leadership.

Q8. Final words for our audience.

Johanna: Thanks for asking me these questions. I invite anyone who wants to continue the conversation to start at Thanks!



Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” provides frank advice for your tough problems. She helps leaders and teams see problems and resolve risks and manage their product development.

She is an author of over 200 hundred articles and several books: -Manage Your Job Search -Hiring Geeks That Fit -Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects -The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management -Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management etc.

Interview with Christopher Avery

We hear a lot about leadership and responsibility as separate concepts. We got an opportunity to understand concept of ‘Responsible Leadership‘ from Christopher Avery during his interview. In this conversation, we spoke about The Responsibility Process, what is required to be a successful leader, and if leadership can be taught. Let’s find out the valuable information brought out during the conversation;

Q1. Tell us about how to start with The Responsibility Process® ?

Christopher: Take these four steps. 

1. Ask yourself “How committed am I to recognise and solve problems faster, be free and powerful in life, and be a better leader of self and others?” If you are truly committed go on to step 2. 

2. Ask yourself “Do I believe The Responsibility Process is active in me, controlling my perceptions of cause and effect for my life?” If you believe it, go on to step 3.

3. Begin our most important lifelong practice: Noticing.

  • Notice when you are in Lay Blame.
  • Notice when you are in Justify.
  • Notice when you are in Shame.
  • Notice when you are in Obligation.
  • Notice when you are in Quit.
  • Notice when you are in Responsibility.

If you are committed to unlocking your natural ability to live and lead with power, then you will catch yourself blaming (it’s the manager’s fault we can’t do that) and stop. Then you will catch yourself justifying (we don’t have enough time/resources/budget) and stop. Then you will catch yourself blaming yourself (Shame – I screwed up and now we have a big problem) and stop. Then you will catch yourself feeling trapped in Obligation (I have to go to that dumb meeting) and stop. Only taking Responsibility (I own my power and ability to create, choose, and attract my reality) remains.

  1. Commit to applying The Responsibility Process only to yourself as a self-leadership tool. When applied to others it is usually used to Lay Blame.

Finally, consider finding a partner or forming a support group to study The Responsibility Process together. Our old habits of mind are so strong that trying to practice Responsibility by yourself can be like trying to quit smoking in a house full of smokers.

Q2. Can leadership be taught?

Christopher: Yes, but it doesn’t mean that the teaching is right or that leadership is learned.

So allow me to instead answer this question: “Can leadership be learned?” Yes, absolutely. As I frequently say (and write about in my new book The Responsibility Process: Unlocking Your Natural Ability to Live and Lead with Power Create Choose and Attract) leaders make themselves by stepping up to and responding effectively to increasing challenges.

Leadership means taking responsibility for some problem or opportunity, and then — assuming the task is larger than one person can do — attracting others to join you. So if you apply The Responsibility Process as a self-leadership tool, you will grow rapidly to be able to face and overcome ever greater challenges. And if you are pointing yourself at valuable problems or opportunities, and operating from Responsibility, then you should not be surprised to see followers wanting to join you.

Q3. Freedom, choice and power – are they anywhere associated with being a leader?

Christopher: I assume you are asking about my claim in my book The Responsibility Process and other places that leadership is responsibility and that practicing responsibility means experiencing Freedom, Choice, and Power. Of course they are associated with leadership. If you are trapped, there is nowhere to lead to. You are convinced. If you have no choice, there is no leadership to be demonstrated. If you have no power, you don’t recognize your own ability to be resourceful, hence no leadership.

This is also what you study with me in The Responsibility Process Leading and Coaching workshop.

Q4. How can Teamwork be an individual skill? Please explain.

Christopher: I wrote Teamwork Is An Individual Skill: Getting Your Done When Sharing Responsibility for people who want to be done with bad teams. Most people think that they are powerless to affect the quality and productivity of their teams, and that someone else (the manager, coach, team lead, etc.) is responsible for the quality of their experience at work.

Fortunately, there is an alternative belief, that you are creating your experience in life and work, good or bad. That means if you want to experience great teams and relationships at work, you can take responsibility for doing so.

The first step is to assume 100% responsibility for the quality and productivity of your relationships at work, all of them, even the awful ones (indeed, that’s the only way you will change them).

Next, be — or become — worthy of being a great teammate:

  • Do you seek alignment with others on higher goals?
  • Do you see them as a human being as opposed to a role? (Do you know what inspires them at work beyond a paycheck? And do you support them in that?)
  • Do you make and keep agreements that build trust?

These are powerful self-leadership behaviors you can engage in everywhere.

Then, when you are a person who deserves to be on a great team you can intend, expect (maybe even demand of yourself) to be on a great team.

When you expect to be on great teams, then you will learn what it takes to give a group of people a chance to step up to shared responsibility together:

The feeling of being in the same boat together by being aligned to a single overarching objective, goal, or purpose.

Managing peer motivation first by surfacing individual motivation (beyond a paycheck) so people see they probably are not a threat to each other, then by identifying the least-invested-coworker.

Any team performs to the level of their least-invested-coworker, so you want to discover this early and think about how to help them find greater inspiration and psychological reward in your team.

Building trust specifically by making and keeping team agreements. Start small and build to larger and larger agreements that everyone has confidence now in keeping.

This is the basic concept of teamwork as an individual skillset. And it is what I write about in Teamwork Is An Individual Skill and teach in The Responsibility Process Powerful Teams workshop.

Q5. What is required to be a successful leader along with risk taking appetite?

Christopher: Leadership is 95% self-leadership. If you are doing that well you should not be surprised to see people following you.

So the main requirement is taking 100% responsibility for a problem, situation, or opportunity. That means FEELING it. Being INSPIRED by it. Feeling PULLED to it. Naturally SAYING NO to distractions.

This is a natural state of mind, sometimes called passion,  or vision, calling, or purpose. Taking responsibility isn’t something you can make yourself do (that’s called Obligation). You allow yourself to own your power and ability to create, choose, and attract your reality.

If your problem, situation, or opportunity is bigger than you, then you get to figure out how to attract other people to join you. The larger your vision or purpose is, the more people you will naturally attract to assist you.

Here’s a short example from my own life. No one assigned me to promote The Responsibility Process. At first, I just wanted to learn, practice, and master it. Then I realized the world could use this. So I created a purpose—to change the conversation everywhere about what responsibility is and isn’t. And I developed a vision—that one day we could see The Responsibility Process poster hanging in every office, classroom, home, and church in the world. And I went to work experimenting with speaking, writing, and leadership development. I have a very small company, but The Responsibility Process now enjoys a worldwide tribe of followers and fellow practitioners and teachers. If I disappeared tomorrow, I think there may be enough critical mass for the purpose to continue.

Q6. What is the difference between a coach and consultant?

Christopher: I think that’s a question for others to opine about.

Q7. What is the one question you think I haven’t asked you, and should have asked?

Christopher: Do I love and believe in you, and want you to realize the life, work, and relationships of your dreams?

Absolutely I do.


Christopher Avery “The Responsibility Process guy” is a reformed management consultant. After a decade helping corporations help smart, ambitious professionals find ways to cope with lives they don’t want and think they can’t change, Christopher realized coping skills are overrated. A better skill is knowing how to apply your innate leadership ability to face and overcome any challenge. Today, he supports leaders and leadership teams in generating newfound freedom, choice, and power for themselves and others. How? By advancing the world’s first proven how-to approach for understanding, teaching, and taking personal responsibility.