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How to be a great Agile Coach?

September 7, 2017

An Agile Coach is a senior, experienced, competent, insightful and respected figure who educates, transforms and guides Agile teams. A great Agile coach strives to create and nurture great Agile teams that consistently get great results. A great coach aims to get great results from several teams by influencing them to constantly live by Agile values and principles and facilitate proper Scrum processes.

 

A coach is like a Scrum Master in some ways, but plays that role across multiple Scrum teams and at a much broader organizational level. It is best that an Agile Coach be external to the organization rather than be an internal employee.

 

We note upfront that there is no easy formula or method to becoming a great Agile coach. It takes years of hard work and dedication, humility, persistence and discipline to develop into one.

 

The role of an Agile Coach

 

While it is not useful to tightly limit the role of any coach, some of the key expertise and guidance provided by an Agile coach are listed below;

 

  • Introduces and clarifies Agile concepts and practices into the organization

  • Builds and maintains the Agile values and principles across teams and the broader organization

  • Creates and nurtures an environment that facilitates the development of an agile mindset in people (Through active support from Senior Executives)

  • Provides objective guidance as an authority on all things Agile

  • Helps with the longer-term strategy to sustain and improve agility in the organization

 

The Agile Coach does not get involved in any specific project in the role of a Scrum Master or Product Owner or Developer. They guide teams without participating in the project. Just as any sports coach will not get down to the field and play the game with the team, the Agile coach will not actually work in the project as a team member.

 

Competencies of a great Agile Coach

 

An Agile coach needs to possess proven competencies across many areas listed below;

 

  • Coaching and facilitating

 

The distinction between coach and team player has been discussed earlier. A coach is an expert on the content (Scrum practices and techniques). The team member is a practitioner who is responsible for executing the practices of Agile to deliver project outcomes. Good coaches allow the organization's’ priorities and values to determine the direction rather than enforce their personal expertise or opinion. They can weave Agile practices into the organization's’ definition of success.

 

  • Teaching and Mentoring

 

In contrast to coaching and facilitating, good coaches rely on their content expertise and impart some of it into client organizations. Great Agile coaches teach the right knowledge at the right time, in the right way, so that individuals absorb that knowledge and put it into practice. Great coaches focus not only on content but also on why and how people learn. Mentoring differs from coaching in that it focusses on building longer-term relationships. Great Agile coaches mentor individuals so that they individuals can learn, grow and become better professionals.

 

  • Knowledge and Application

 

Great coaches invest considerable time and resources to continuously learn and acquire broad knowledge of Agile and deep knowledge of one or two specific flavours such as Scrum or Kanban. They have also applied that knowledge in practice in real terms in real organizations so that they are proficient in the practical application of that knowledge.

 

  • Domain mastery

 

Domain mastery includes three areas: Technical, Business and Transformational. A great Agile coach demonstrates domain mastery in one or two of those areas to a high degree of competence. Technical mastery is the ability to be hands-on in areas such as solution architecting, designing, coding, testing, etc. and can show good practice by example. Business Mastery is the ability to apply strategy and management frameworks, product innovation techniques, lean principles, business process management approaches etc. from related fields to the context of the engagement. Transformational mastery is the ability to facilitate, act as a catalyst for change and lead organizational change initiatives. As such this requires skills in change management, organizational culture, organizational development, systems thinking and behavioural sciences competencies.

 

How to become a great Agile Coach

 

It is essential for anyone wanting to become a good Agile coach to acquire the competencies discussed above. In addition, good Agile coaches demonstrate highly advanced and developed capability in the following traits: Questioning and listening skills, Patience and Tolerance, Focus, Intuition, Humility.

 

A great Agile coach also develops what can be termed as a “Coaching stance” where they start from and return to in the role of a coach. Without a Coaching stance the work of an Agile coach may become manipulative, ideological and driven by their personal desires. Anyone wanting to become a great Agile coach must live by these core principles. A great Agile coach is a servant leader.

 

  • Maintain neutrality while facilitating, coaching, teaching or mentoring (with individuals and teams)

  • Serve the Client's agenda (Client can be an individual, team, department or organization)

  • Reduce Client dependence (Make all effort to transfer knowledge and skills to the client without any agenda to make the client be dependable on the services of a coach for long periods)

  • Refrain from colluding (The coach should never collude with the client to accommodate dysfunctions, bad practices and limitations that Agile may have exposed)

  • Signature presence (Find a unique voice and individual way of expression and be authentic and demonstrate integrity)

References:

 

  1. The Agile Coaching Institute (www.agilecoachinginstitute.com)

  2. Agile Experts Blog (www.platinumedge.com)

  3. What really is an Agile coach (https://www.scrumalliance.org/community/articles/2015/september/what-really-is-an-agile-coach)

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