The flexible path to Agile project management, leadership and beyond
27th September 2021
From fashion to technology:
Read about Lynne Johnson’s varied career journey from modelling to software engineering and Agile project management, and her passion for career coaching.
One of the things that I love to do is inspire others’, says Lynne Johnson, Senior Head Competence Unit and Career Coach at Zühlke.
In a long, varied and accomplished professional career—that’s included modelling, follies dancing, being a hotelier, fashion design, entrepreneurship, programming, agile project management and now coaching—inspiring others perhaps comes naturally nowadays.
Driven by values
Lynne holds Zühlke’s values such as integrity, honesty, transparency, fairness and trust close to her heart. She’s never shied away from living her own dreams, no matter how dramatic the change required.
‘All the aspects of how we work at Zühlke are iterative and incremental. If we make a mistake, we own up, learn from it, pivot, and do something different.’
Her own journey began in the Seattle suburb of Burien, helping her father (an electronics technician at Boeing) with his domestic soldering projects. But it was one of his colleagues that made the strongest impression on teenage Lynne: ‘She was tall, dark, unbelievably beautiful—and a computer programmer. I wanted to be her. I soon moved up to an advanced algebra class in the seventh grade and got to run algebraic problems through a big IBM computer. It was the coolest thing—being a programmer quickly became my dream.’
The model programmer
Yet, as she herself became tall, dark and beautiful, Lynne was persuaded to go to modelling school. After missing out on an opportunity to work in Paris, she took the plunge for herself with a one-way ticket to London. With just a few hundred pounds in her pocket, it was fortunate that the two phone numbers she had—model agency and bed-sit—both worked out.
After more than a decade’s successful fashion modelling—which also included two years as a dancer in Greg Thompson’s Music Hall Follies—she started her own fashion house, called ‘Panic’.
Lynne and her actor husband, Richard Johnson (’Look him up’, she says proudly, ‘he was the first person asked to be James Bond. Sean Connery was the eighth.’), then took over the Savernack Forest Hotel in Wiltshire, transforming it into the first environmentally-friendly hotel in the UK.
‘It was a crazy few years. But eventually, Richard started working a lot, so we sold the hotel and moved back to London. It was one of these pivotal moments when a leaflet fell into my hands that advertised a Windows class at college. I went for it and ended up going to university to follow my original dream of becoming a programmer.’
Caring about people
‘After university I worked as a programmer for a few organisations. Charing Cross Hospital was a particularly amazing place to work. To work with nurses and other carers was really enjoyable and inspiring.
During her time at the hospital, she also helped found ‘It’s a Green Green World’—an online travel portal that aims to connect ecologically-minded globetrotters with sustainable destinations, services and accommodation.
“But then I got into this world of the agile development process.’
Eventually Lynne found her way to Zühlke—first as an Agile Project Manager, then as a Senior Project Manager, and finally joining the management team in early 2016. That spring she started her journey as a life and leadership coach.
Career coach – Looking bravely forward
‘I initially joined Zühlke because it was actively turning away waterfall projects—that was unheard of nine years ago. When I first thought about it, it was really brave, but when you start working here, you realise it was just the right thing to do.’
‘My job as a career coach has three aspects. First, I’m a line manager responsible for looking after a multi-disciplinary team of engineers, data scientists, designers, project managers and more. Second, I look after staffing, making sure that people with relevant skills and aspirations are put on the right client projects and are adequately supported. Finally, I’m a hiring manager, recruiting multi-disciplinary people for Zühlke UK.’
Crucially (and partly motivated by the working-from-home culture of recent times) an important fourth dimension to her role has arisen: ‘I’m also passionate about trying to build up programmes of training—Zühlke is a company that invests in people. We’ve almost doubled in size over the last year, but everyone’s online, not in the office. Nobody is passing one another in the corridors and, if we’re not careful, we’ll lose the cultural aspect of the company. So we created a Zühlke onboarding programme that establishes a cultural connection early on. There’s also training and masterclasses for everyone, at all levels of seniority.’
‘I’m kind of living my life’s purpose as a career coach. I like people to be brave. I like to encourage them to be the best they possibly can be at whatever they want to do. And I coach them to figure out that secret sauce that’s part of their life.’
‘Ultimately, as coaches, we’re here to empower other people to lift themselves up. That’s about asking the right questions and really listening to the answers—to find that one thing that really drives a person. The possibilities are endless—I love it here. Zühlke is my resting place.’
Senior Head Competence Unit
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