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Aire Life

Q&A with Aire’s Agile Coach— Meena Venkataraman

Meena Venkataraman joined Aire as our first Agile Coach in September 2018. We take a look at her work at Aire, and life beyond.

1. Coffee count so far today (09:21)

☕️ — from Pret and on the way to work. An absolute ritual for me that sets the tone of my day.

Aire-time

2. You’ve celebrated your first anniversary at Aire Meena, what’s been your biggest accomplishment so far?

When I joined, Aire certainly had the cornerstones of an Agile approach to product development in place, but a formal process around this was yet to be established. It’s been my job to implement training and put clear processes in place around Agile.

There are many misconceptions when it comes to Agile and scrum ways of working. They are industry buzzwords and as such are often viewed with an element of mistrust. So for me, it’s always important to show organisations the clear benefits of the methodology and that’s what I’ve strived to do here at Aire. Central to this is creating loops for continuous improvement and this recently culminated in Aire’s ‘Big Room Planning’ session, which took place in September.

The marshmallow challenge, a team building task to kick off Big Room Planning

The aim of this was to connect the short-term with the long-term, to align the whole Product team on direction and to unite everyone for success. We structured this over two days with the aim of aligning top-level OKRs, with the product team’s team OKRs and mission. We also set our Product Principles in a brilliant session run by Daniel Bhugon to define how we want to work together, for the long-term. All crucial thinking to set us up for better alignment.

For me at Aire, it’s been great to see the thinking behind this develop into two days of great teamwork and I look forward to doing more of this in the months to come.

3. What uncomfortable forest* are you glad to have taken a walk in since arriving at Aire?

* At Aire, we’re not afraid to take the hard path. Even if it takes more time or creates more pain. We want to ensure we do it the right way.

For me, it’s been about getting comfortable with the uncertainty other people experience when you introduce new methodologies and ways of thinking to them and their teams. Giving people time to digest new thinking is critical and this requires patience. I always remember that here at Aire everyone is coming from a good place but approach this in a different way — this has been a key learning for me over the last year.

4. What are you most looking forward to getting your teeth stuck into next at Aire?

It’s been a fantastic year for Aire so far and coming up, we’re looking to scale. From an Agile perspective, we know that what works for us today won’t work tomorrow and we must be alert to this. We need to hire sustainably across the business to build strong structures. I’m embracing these challenges and looking to learn new tactics as the year progresses. I’m fascinated by how we can apply existing research on human behaviour and team dynamics to the way we structure our teams here at Aire. There are so many key learnings I think we can benefit from.

Meena’s son, Nik, enjoying Aire’s annual Family Day picnic this summer

I’m also really interested in diversity. I’m a woman, a parent and I work in technology — a typically male-dominated industry. Aire does well on hiring diversely, but we could always do more. We’re good at recognising different needs at Aire, for example, we have core hours which we can flex on either side of the working day. This is so important for me as a mother, empowering me to be the parent I want to be.

5. What do you think the biggest change to your team has been in the last month?

For us I think it will always be the challenge of constant scaling — this can be painful and not losing what works for us will be important. We must always be intentional to keep the team working well.

Downtime

6. How do you stay up-to-date and keep your skills sharp?

The usual blogs and articles are important to me and I like to attend conferences. I’m interested in understanding what makes people tick and think it’s crucial to keep reading to learn. But I also think it’s important to not just read the usual ‘business’ literature — everything is connected: dinosaurs, astronomy… random reads can often link up with things I’m grappling with at work.

7. What are you learning right now?

I find Audible a great way to upskill on my commute — I’m currently learning about thriving workplaces.

Aire recently partnered with Learnerbly to allow us to take charge of own personal development. This provides each of us with an individual learning budget from which we can book courses and order books. Through this initiative, I’m undertaking a ‘liberating structures’ workshop next month which I’m really looking forward to.

8. What’s been your favourite conference experience?

Agile in the city I’ve attended and enjoyed. I have also enjoyed attending the Grace Hopper Celebration here in London in the past.

9. What’s the one conference you’d like to go to but haven’t been to yet?

The US holds some brilliant looking events when it comes to Agile, in particular: Business Agility Conference and Big Apple Scrum Day.

10. What’s the podcasts/ blog/ book you swear by?

The benefit of having a long commute is that I get plenty of reading time. I have enjoyed reading 21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari (I particularly enjoyed the section on algorithmic biases), The Silent Guides by Steve Peters (something which I read for my children but which helped my understand a lot of things about how the human mind works). Drive by Daniel Pink is a very important read for organisations and is something I would recommend to anyone working with teams.

I also enjoy reading fiction. The thing I like about stories is that they are powerful tools to convey important information. I have recently enjoyed reading Testaments by Margaret Atwood and Mythos by Stephen Fry.

11. Any personal projects outside of work?

At home, my family and I are running a zero-waste project. Every month we do a swap: tea bags to loose tea, plastic milk bottles to glass. We’re running out of time to save our environment and we must all take action now.

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