Easy Agile Podcast Ep.7 Sarah Hajipour, Agile Coach

by Caitlin Mackie, Graduate Marketing Coordinator

26 Mar 2021

"I absolutely loved my conversation with Sarah, she shared some amazing advice that I can't wait to put into practice!"

We spoke about the agile mindset beyond IT & development teams, how teams such as marketing and finance are starting to adopt the methodology and the benefits of doing so.

In celebration of international women's day, we discussed the future of women in agile, and steps we should be taking to support one another towards an inclusive and enabling environment.

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Transcript

Caitlin Mackie:

Hello everyone and welcome back to the Easy Agile Podcast for 2021. Each episode, we talk with some of the most interesting people in tech, in agile, and in leading businesses around the world to share fresh perspectives and learn from the wealth of knowledge each guest has to share. I'm Caitlin and I'm the Graduate Marketing Coordinator at Easy Agile and your host for this episode. We are thrilled to be back and have some amazing guests lined up this season. So to kick us off, I'm really excited to be talking with Sarah Hajipour.

Caitlin Mackie:

Sarah has so much rich and diverse experience in the agile space. She's an agile coach, a business transformation leader, a project and program manager, and more recently a podcast host and author. She's the jack of all trades and has been in the business agility space for over 10 years. In this episode, Sarah and I chat about the significance of goal setting and in particular goal setting in unpredictable times. We chat about her most recent projects, the Agility Podcast with Sarah Hajipour and her book on Agile Case Studies.

Caitlin Mackie:

And of course with International Women's Day coming up, Sarah shared some amazing advice and her thoughts on the way forward for women in agile. She highlighted the importance of raising your hand and asking for help when you need it, as well as embracing qualities that aren't always traditionally thought of in leaders. It was such a thoughtful and insightful discussion. I got a lot of value out of our conversation and received some great advice, and I'm really looking forward to putting into practice. I know those listening will feel the same. Let's jump in.

Caitlin Mackie:

Sarah, thank you so much for joining us and spending some time with me today.

Sarah Hajipour:

Sure. Thanks for having me.

Caitlin Mackie:

So being our first guest for the year, I wanted to ask you about any new year's resolutions. Are you on track? Are you a believer in them or do you have a different type of goal setting process?

Sarah Hajipour:

That's a great question because we discussed this with a couple of friends and we realized new year's resolution is always going to be some kind of like a huge goal that we don't know if we're going to meet it or not. And thinking agile business agility and as an agile coach, I believe in the fact that let's have smaller goals and review them every three months, every six months and see where we at. Instead of looking into huge goals that we don't know what's going to happen because there's always a lot of uncertainties, even in our personal lives regarding the goals that we set up for ourselves. So yeah, that's how I look at it. Quarterly, quarterly personal goals. Let's say that.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Yeah, I think if the last year has taught us anything, I think we can all agree how unpredictable things can become. So those original goals.

Sarah Hajipour:

That's true.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. The original goals might have to take a couple of detours. So what would be your advice for setting career goals in uncertain times?

Sarah Hajipour:

That's a great question. For career goals I believe it really matters that you do something that you're interested in at least. If you still haven't found your passion, that's fine especially people like young professionals. It's okay if you haven't found your passion yet, but you can still follow a basically career path starting with things that you like to do, kind of you enjoy and you learn through the way.

Sarah Hajipour:

I was listening to one of the fashion icons on YouTube a couple of days ago and the interviewer was asking her, "What was your career path? How did you get to this place you are now?" And I loved what she told everybody, the students, and that was go and find a career, find a job and learn. You first need to learn a lot of skills before you decide what you're actually good at. You decide, you understand what's your weaknesses and your strengths, right? Because not all of us have these amazing ideas all the time and that's fine.

Sarah Hajipour:

I'm not very much pro-everybody has to be a visionary and everybody has to have like big, shiny goals and ideas. I think that's perfectly fine to just find the kind of job that or the kind of career path that you're comfortable with and then sometimes get out of your comfort zone and then discover as you go. Life is to explore, not to just push yourself on the corner all the time and just compare yourself with everybody else.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. I love that. That's great advice. So you've recently added podcast host and author to your resume. Were they always career goals of yours?

Sarah Hajipour:

No, absolutely not. Well, I'm a little bit of an introverted person. So kind of sit in front of a camera even talking and having people hear me was always like, "Oh my God, I know I need to talk about this even with my teams and stuff," but I will do it only if it's necessary. What got me into podcasting was that I figured there's a lot of questions that I'm finding answers when I'm having conversations and meetups and in different groups, professional groups that I'm in. And I wanted other people to hear those as well. I talked to people who have great insights and have been way longer than me in the career. So I'm learning at the same time. And I wanted to share that learning with everybody else. That's the reason I'm doing the podcast.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah, that's great. Yeah, I love that. And I think you kind of touched on this earlier, but I think being in the agile space, sometimes it can be a nice reminder for you to have a bit of a focus, but then reflect and understand sort of where to be more effective and adjust accordingly. I know you mentioned that with your career goals, do you think that those agile principles can be applied beyond the usual use case?

Sarah Hajipour:

I do. I believe that it's a very intuitive like agile is a very intuitive way of working and a way of thinking. That's why now it's expanded to other industries. They didn't stay with DevOps and IT and development. It is now a lot of different industries adopting this because it's a mindset change. And just not just using scrum. It's not just using Kanban. It is about understanding how to be able to reflect on and adapt to the faster changes that are happening in the world. And that also applies to our personal lives as well.

Sarah Hajipour:

I mean, I used to have set goals when I was 18-years-old, I'm going to be this at 30, but did they happen? No. In some aspects I achieved much, much more. And in some aspects I just changed my goal. I think the changes that are happening in the world that are more rapid, it demands us to change as well. Yeah.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. Awesome. So just to circle back a little bit there for your podcast just for our audience listening, what platforms can they access your podcast on?

Sarah Hajipour:

I'm on all of the main platforms. I'm in Apple podcasts. I'm in Spotify, I'm in Amazon. Most of the prominent podcast platforms.

Caitlin Mackie:

Awesome. And then just again, for our audience, your podcast is called the Agility Podcast with Sarah Hajipour.

Sarah Hajipour:

That's correct. Yes.

Caitlin Mackie:

Awesome. That's great. What do you think has been the most valuable lesson you've learned from your podcast so far? Is it something a guest has shared or something you've learned along the way?

Sarah Hajipour:

What I have learned, I have learned a lot from the people that I interview because I make sure that I talk to people who know more than me and have been in this field more than me, and in different industries. The main thing I would say is that agile business agility is about mindset rather than the tools and processes. And the fact that the world overall is moving towards a more human-centric way of working.So basically that's why I say agile is more intuitive rather than just following ABCD. Yeah. This is the core, the main thing that that I have learned from my interviewees.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah, amazing. You've also started writing a book at the moment. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How did that project begin?

Sarah Hajipour:

I actually love this project. In this book, the way I actually started writing the book was the book came first and then the podcast happened. I attend a lot of meetups. So for young professionals and even for professionals who are very much skilled in what they do, meetups are great place to meet and expand your network and learn from your peers. So I was attending all of these and I was learning from people. And then I decided I really want to have one-on-one conversations with them. And eventually I figured that a lot of the agile coaches, a lot of executive levels and a lot of consultants, they have a lot to share, but I didn't see any platform that kind of unifies that.

Sarah Hajipour:

I said, "Okay what are the learnings that we can share?" A lot of the mistakes because of the meetups groups, people feel safe to share and be vulnerable. And I was in multiple meetups so I heard very similar stories from people, the mistakes that have been repeated by a coach somewhere else. So I thought that'd be a great idea to put these in agile cases. So it's going to be Agile Case Studies and share it with everyone so. Especially the young coaches or stepping into the business, there's a lot of unknowns. I don't want them to be afraid. I don't want them to think, "Okay, this is a huge task." There's always going to be a lot of unknowns.

Sarah Hajipour:

Yes, I just see that. I kind of want to give that visibility that everybody else is experiencing the same, even if they have 25 years of experience, which is amazing, right?

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah.

Sarah Hajipour:

And that's the reason I started writing the book. So I interview with agile coaches and agile consultants that have been around at least five to 10 years and led agile transformation projects. And then from there, one of my interviewers once said, "You should do a podcast. I like to talk about this too." I'm like, "This is great" and that was like the week after I was like running around looking for tools to start my podcast.

Caitlin Mackie:

Oh, amazing. Sounds so good. What's the process been like? How have you found from ideation to where you are now, and then eventually when you're publishing it?

Sarah Hajipour:

For the podcast?

Caitlin Mackie:

For the book.

Sarah Hajipour:

For the book, so I go to these meetups and I listen to what's the coaches and the executives are sharing. The ones that are exciting for me are kind of a new for me, I will ask them, I connect with them over in LinkedIn and people are so open to sharing their experience with you. I've never had even one person said to tell me, "No, I don't want to talk about this or anything." People want to share. So I approach and I say, "Hey, I have a book outline or guideline. It's a two pager." I send it to them and I asked them if they are interested to talk to me about this and they let me know and then I'll select a time.

Sarah Hajipour:

And first session, it's like a half an hour. It's a kind of a brainstorming session. What are the key cases that they feel they want to share? Then we pick one and the session after that, they'll actually go through the case with me. I record it, draft it and then share it on Google Drive back and forth until we're happy with the outcome.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. Awesome. Do you have a timeline at the moment? When can we expect to be able to read it?

Sarah Hajipour:

I'm looking forward to around the end of 2021, because it's 100 cases and I think that I'll have that.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. Awesome. It's so exciting. Lots to look forward too.

Sarah Hajipour:

Thank you.

Caitlin Mackie:

Now, I also wanted to touch on International Women's Day is coming up and you've been in the agile space for a few years now. I assume you've probably witnessed a bit of change in this space. Have there been any pivotal moments that have sort of led to where you are today?

Sarah Hajipour:

Well, I think that a lot of women are being attracted to the agile practice, the different agile roles. And I have seen a lot more women as scrum masters, as product owners and as agile managers or agile project managers. A lot of different roles are being kind of flourishing in this area. And I've seen a lot of women contribute. One my goals actually in my book and on my podcast is to be able to find these women and talk to them regardless of where they are in the world. Yeah, I just feel that women can grow really in this area in the agile mindset, because women are more the collaboration piece.

Sarah Hajipour:

I can't tell we're less competitive. I haven't done research on that, but I have discussed it with people. Do you think that women are more collaborative rather than competitive? Because competition is great, but you need a lot of collaboration in agile and a lot of nurturing. You need to have that nurturing feeling, the nurturing mindset, that's what a scrum master does. One of the key characteristics of a scrum master has to be they have to have this nurturing perspective to bring it to the team.

Caitlin Mackie:

It's funny you mentioned because I actually have read some stuff myself about women typically possessing more of that open leadership style and that open leadership seems to complement the agile space really nicely so.

Sarah Hajipour:

That's exactly, yeah.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. Yeah. That's great and I think there's lots that we can take from that, open leadership and the direct leadership. So men and women coming forward and finding that middle ground and yeah, I feel like agile is a great space to do that in?

Sarah Hajipour:

Yeah, I totally agree. Yeah.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah, yeah. So what drove your passion? I guess what made you want to pursue a career in this space?

Sarah Hajipour:

I love the collaboration piece and I love the vulnerability because like people are allowed to be vulnerable and in the teams that they work in. And it is a culture that is more human rather than super strict. We're not allowed to make mistakes. We're not allowed to be wrong. Leaders are supposed to know everything right off the bat. But in reality, that's not the case. Leaders have to feel comfortable not knowing a lot of things that are not even known. But a lot of times I always say we're in the unknown unknown zone. And in that zone, even leaders are not supposed to know everything.

Sarah Hajipour:

So a lot of it starts with what are the other things that I learned from my interviewees is that it all starts with the leadership. So the agile transformations, the leaders have to first create that atmosphere of collaboration and of trust and psychological safety among themselves. And then only then they can help with teams to be able to thrive in those kinds of atmospheres as well.

Sarah Hajipour:

Women in agile and women in leadership. I like to say and what I see is a lot of men and women both that are changing their perspective from process of tool-centric to people-centric because it works better for everyone. And I see change really happening in all industries. I see it in retail. I see it in construction, obviously in IT, in finance system. And there's men and women like hand-in-hand trying to kind of embrace this way of thinking and this way of working.

Sarah Hajipour:

And women are being more comfortable to grow and kind of raise their hand and say, "Hey, I can make each page. I can take this role" because they understand because they bring that psychological safety that women for ages, it has been a workplace has been something that was mostly men and we're gradually getting into the workforce or the business world as females. So that psychological safety has allowed women to raise their hand and grow in different roles and leadership roles obviously.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah, yeah. I couldn't agree more. Has there been any resources or networks, things like that that have helped you along your journey?

Sarah Hajipour:

Learning from everybody else like creating a network, expanding my network to kind of coming in and saying, "Hey, I don't know. I want to know." There is all of these amazing things that are happening. I like to understand how this works and I remember it was one of these founders. Who's the founder of Apple? Oh my God. Don't tell me.

Caitlin Mackie:

Steve Jobs.

Sarah Hajipour:

I love this quote from Steve Jobs that says, "There has never been a time where I asked for help and people didn't help me." So just raise your hand and say, "I need help." And what does that help that I need? I need to know about this. What does it mean? What does scrum mean to you? How does it work in your industry? How does it work? And really I think that was the key for me up until now to connect with people and just be vulnerable and let them teach me.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. I think my next question would be about how do we amplify that diverse and empowered community of women and our job in increasing the representation of women in agile? And yeah, what do you think is key to achieve a supportive and enabling environment?

Sarah Hajipour:

What I have seen and realized is that women really need to be and are being more supportive of each other. There was a study in HBR, Harvard Business Review in 2016 that said, "If there is only one woman in the pool of the interviewees, there's a zero chance for that woman to get the job, even if she's the best." So this calls for not which women are actually working great on that. Not being the queen bee, but also engaging and including other women. Because the more women in different roles, the more we are going to be receptive in those communities. That I think is a key that we understand that and support each other, help each other, build the communities around it.

Sarah Hajipour:

There is a community Women in Agile that is in different cities and different parts of the world that I'm a member of as well doing a great job. It's not just women actually in those groups. I see men participating as well, but it's predominantly women are trying to give each other insights from all aspects of the agile practices, the agile ways of working and stuff. Yeah.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. So I think what's the way forward? I guess what's your prediction for women in agile? What do we need to do to continue that momentum?

Sarah Hajipour:

I think women will do great in anything and everything they put their minds in, regardless. We're human bottom line and we all have this potential to be able to grow in whatever we put our mind and heart on, regardless of our gender. So I would love for women to kind of be able to get that holistic perspective that regardless of their gender, they can do anything and they are, we are.

Sarah Hajipour:

We read about other women who have been successful in the fields of business that you felt that probably women can't do like women astronauts. There are women physicists. Women engineering leads and all of these that have been less common. The world is changing for the better and that's great.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah, yeah. I absolutely love that

Sarah Hajipour:

It's a great time to be alive.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. That's exciting. Yeah, exactly.

Sarah Hajipour:

Yes.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. I definitely think that we are beginning to see a huge increase and the visibility of female role models across so many industries. So it's great to have that. But Sarah, this has been such a great conversation. I wanted to finish with a final question for you and that was if you could give one piece of advice to women just starting their career in their industry, what would it be?

Sarah Hajipour:

I would say maybe the best advice that I can give is that we do have the power. And we need to look, number one, beyond gender and kind of have that belief that we can do anything that we want. And second is don't be shy to open up and build your community like build a community, join a community of agile practitioners of agile coaches, even people, specifically people who know more than you.

Sarah Hajipour:

And don't be afraid to ask help. Don't be afraid to say, "Hey, I'm new to this and I love to learn from you guys." Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and you're going to learn a lot that you wouldn't even expect. Just like you're going to get the result so you're going to hear things beyond what you've expected. There's a lot to human potential that could be unleashed when you just put yourself out there and let others contribute to your growth.

Caitlin Mackie:

That's amazing. That's great advice, Sarah. Loved every minute of our conversation. So thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Sarah Hajipour:

My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Easy Agile Podcast Ep.7 Sarah Hajipour, Agile Coach

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