Interview with Agile Expert Rachel Weston Rowell


Markets outside a company’s home country often represent some of the greatest opportunities for growth. Interestingly, agile development, with its focus on targeted scope, just-in time delivery, and frequent product updates has a difference cadence than traditional L10n, QA, and i18n review, which could take weeks or months per release.

Interested in resolving this disconnect and applying agile principles to the software i18n and L10n process for more seamless global releases? Join Lingoport’s Adam Asnes with special guest, agile expert Rachel Weston Rowell of Weston Rowell Consulting, in our upcoming September 26th webinar,¬†Creating a Happy Path for Agile Localization, to learn more!

In this webinar, you’ll not only uncover how to align practices across functional areas to maximize value delivery to your customers, but also key practices to transition into agile delivery practices, not to mention success patterns regarding i18n and L10n. Learn to address concerns of development and how to enable QA to support markets outside of the US, and so much more.

View i18n Webinar Recording

Eager for Rachel’s insights prior to the webinar? Say no more! Check out our insider interview with Rachel below, providing you with a sneak peek into the types of agile development insights you’ll uncover during the webinar.


Hi, Rachel, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Rachel Rowell

Hi, I’m Rachel. I am an executive team coach. My background is in agile practice. So, about 11 years ago I joined a company called Rally Software, and I became an agile coach where I traveled around the country teaching people about agile practice.

After a few years of doing that, I moved into a role where I ran the professional services organization at Rally Software, and in that role I gained a lot of empathy for what it means to be an executive at a software company. From there, I moved into another role where I did a bunch of experimental work taking agile and lean concepts and figuring out how to move them up and out into the business.

So, if we took them from the space of R&D in IT world and sort of applied them to other parts of the business, or even to running a whole business, what would that mean? That’s really lead me to the work I do today, which is, as I said, coaching executive teams. I work primarily with post-startup companies, and help those organizations figure out how to add the right amount of discipline so that they can scale and grow up, and be successful, but hold onto the startup cultures that they love, and really become healthy companies…


Excellent… What would you say is the number one or the top few challenges that you consistently run into for the clients that you work with, helping them to transform into an agile organization?

Rachel Rowell

I’d say the number one problem that every company has is too much work in process, too much width.

It’s just a kind of ubiquitous problem that we start more work than we can finish, and it eventually floods the system, like cars on a freeway, and we end up with a parking lot where no work gets done unless we put a siren on it, and push it down the road, then that’s how work gets done. We make things an emergency, and that’s the only way to get them out of the system.

So, agile practices are designed to help create systems that limit work in process. They do it in different ways, depending on which agile practices you use, but they’re all designed to help with that problem.

I think that the number two problem that I run into, especially because I work with senior leadership teams, is that the balance between strategic work, which I would call working on the business – like how are we going to be a different business, how are we going to improve – and the time we spend working in the business, which is meeting existing commitments, it’s hard to balance that in an effective way without some very intentional approaches. So, that’s another big challenge I see for companies as they grow is, you know, “How do we make space to improve our business while at the same time doing all the work we need to do to stay in business?”

I think at more of a team level it’s just generalized teams, whether they’re executive teams or not, I think that one of the challenges I see is that it’s just in our nature, I think that without some sort of agreement about how we behave and some structures that support that, that we go off and kind of do our own thing, and we’re not naturally inclined to take information and learning and share it with others in a collaborative way. Not because we don’t want to, but just because it’s hard.

So, figuring out how to help people communicate more, be more transparent, be more collaborative is another big challenge I see.



How do you help organizations align practices across functional areas?

Rachel Rowell

I think there’s kind of two steps that businesses should take. The first [addresses] the part of the business that does strategy formulation, and so by that I mean actually having a regular cadence and taking time. Typically, executives are the leaders of this, and we sit down and say, “What is our strategy? What do we want to do? What is the focused way to achieve that?” Because, we can’t be everything to everybody, we can’t do everything.

I always tell people, “A healthy business has a supply and demand mismatch. Your customers will always want more from you than you have a capacity to deliver. That’s a good problem, because that means we have a healthy business. It means we have growth potential, but it’s a hard problem, because it means we can’t do everything.

So, when we design our strategies we’ve got to take this into account. We have to focus. We can only do so many things, and that’s also part of that managing whip, right? Managing work in process, that the leadership sets the tone. These are the two most important, or three most important things, and then the next step is that you then have to deploy it.

I think a lot of companies get stuck in this space where, the executives built a great strategy, but it gets stuck in the C-suite. Nobody else ever knows about it, and then they’re like, “Why isn’t this being executed?”

So, you have to have a really disciplined, well-defined, and continuous process of deploying that strategy and making sure their people understand what it is, and understand what their role is in delivering it, and understand how it’s going to be measured, and then continuously checking back in and saying, “How are we doing?”, “How are we progressing?”,¬† and “Are we getting the results we expected?”

I tell executives that they need to treat strategy like a hypothesis. They don’t know exactly what the right thing is to do for the business. If we knew, we wouldn’t call it a strategy; we would just do it, right? But, then we’re like, “We have a strategy, and it’s an idea,” and so then everything we do related to the strategy is an experiment, and we hope that we’re right. We’re smart. We think that we’re right, but we should expect that sometimes we’re wrong.

So, you’ve got to have a continuous activity of saying, “Well, we did this thing, what happened? What were the results?” Then, you have to adjust given those results, because it’s not always going to be what you thought it was, and I think a lot of times companies, they’re like, “Here’s the strategy,” and then they’re like, “Go,” and then a year later they’re like, “Wait, what happened? Why didn’t things turn out the way that we thought they would?”



Are there any recent examples that you can share of taking a company that had never done agile, had never implemented agile practices before, and seeing it through to fruition where it was very successful?

Rachel Rowell

So, from just a very high, you know 50,000 foot view, the way I approach transformation is that first you want to sort of assess where you are today, and so in your example, the assessment is, “We don’t use agile practice. We either were using a more traditional approach like waterfall, or more likely, if you’re a smaller company, you don’t have any process at all. You’re just in kind of chaos mode, and just working on whatever the loudest thing is at that time, and trying to get it done.

Then so, with agile practice, what I like to do is start with some education, because people have a lot of ideas about what agile is, or they’ve been in a company that they thought was doing agile before, you know? So, there’s inconsistent language, and inconsistent understanding, and so I like to baseline that, and kind of get everybody on the same page. Like, when we say this, this is what we mean, and when we say this, this is what we mean.

We run some education, and that includes leadership. Leadership has to know the same stuff, because agile isn’t just about IT or about engineering, although I think a lot of people start with that assumption. It’s a whole business change, and so the executive team needs to understand it and understand what their role is in that.

So, educating people and getting them some baseline understanding, and then it’s immediately, as soon as possible, turning that education into practice, right? And, getting them going, getting them using the ideas, because it’s only when we start using them that we have the really good questions, right? Like, oh, you taught me this, and now I tried it, and here’s what’s hard, and so how do I do it?

‚ĶI think, the nice thing about agile practice is that it’s cyclical, right? You just, you run, whether you’re running sprints, or iterations, or whatever you want to call them, you’re running these cycles of about two weeks, and it gives you this really fast learning environment, where you’re like, “Try it for two weeks,” and I was like, “What happened? Oh my gosh, this worked, that didn’t work,” and then you get to tune the system with really high frequency, and I think that makes the system work faster.

My approach is get them going, get them practicing it, and then to answer the questions, and help them tune, and continue to guide them along their path. Then, I think along the way, you start to see where are the areas of greatest friction. As a coach, that’s my number one thing I’m always looking for is friction. I’m like, “Where are we rubbing against each other in the business, or where are we stuck in the business, and what do we need to do to smooth that out so that the work can flow again?

‚ĶEach business is a little different, but there’re pretty common patterns like, “We don’t have a product roadmap, so we’re having a hard time prioritizing the work, because we don’t know where we’re going in the long term,” or you know, “There’s not enough support for product owners, so they’re struggling to kind of get the information they need for the team,” or, “We don’t have a good definition of done, and so, we’re inconsistent about our technical standards, and that’s causing us to have problems at integration points.”

So, looking for those things and then bringing some practices to bear that help smooth that out, and then you just keep looking for the next thing. Then, my goal is to teach them how to identify the friction so that they can then start addressing it themselves, right?

Like, “Let me show you guys where I see this friction. Let me talk to you about what we might do about that. Now, next time, you tell me where the friction is, and what do you think you want to do about it?”

Because, that’s the way they get better, and from what it looks like from the outside is that you go from this kind of frozen system. What I always tell people is like, you can tell you have too much work in process, and that your system is full of friction when everybody’s working as hard as they can and nothing is getting done, right?

It’s not, “Nothing’s coming out of the system, and it’s not because we’re all just sitting around drinking lattes. We are working hard, and we are just frustrated in our inability to get to done,” and so what you start seeing is that the work starts to even out, and more, and more things are getting done, and so, you know, employee satisfaction increases, and customer satisfaction increases, and we just start to feel more successful, and we’re working the same. We’re not working harder, because I think we were already working hard, right?

So, we’re working the same amount, but we’re working so much smarter, and what we’re doing is adding so much more value, and so that just makes us more satisfied, because, as humans, we like to see our efforts go towards good results.

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