Many companies approach Agile training like they approach any other kind of organizational enrichment, attend a class, workshop, webinar, etc. This is an effective first step to introduce Agile concepts. It lays the theoretical groundwork for teams to learn what Agile is and how they fit into the framework. The trap that some organizations fall into is a faulty assumption that the classroom training is all that’s needed for everyone to “be Agile”.
When the Agile class is over and its back to work, it’s often overwhelming for people to figure out what to stop doing, what and how to start doing, what to continue doing as before, and that’s not all. Teams are now expected to be self-managing, cross functional, and totally transparent as to planned work and progress. If your team(s) and/or the organization are struggling to resolve these issues, you need more than classroom training, you need someone that can show you how, you need the services of an Agile Coach.
What Do Agile Coaches Do?
An Agile Coach is someone who helps people with the transition to Agile by showing how to correctly and consistently apply Agile techniques to day-to-day work that emboldens confidence and yields measurable results.
They have perfected specialized skills sets and best practices honed from been-there-done-that experiences that help teams and organizations clarify roles, responsibilities, interactions, and tactics that are relatable and effective for planning and executing day-to-day work.
Types of Agile Coaches
The International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile), defines three levels of agile coaching expertise.
Agile Team Facilitator. This would be a ScrumMaster, Kanban Coach or Iteration Manager helping teams to hone their use of agile. The primary focus is correct and consistent agile practices that lead to consistent outcomes.
Agile Coach. Works with multiple teams, sometimes referred to as program level teams. If you are implementing SAFe™ the Release Train Engineer is one type of Agile Coach. Agile Coaches actively engage within and outside teams on anything that hinders the efficient flow of value. They mentor people to help them fully occupy their Agile roles, including managers.
Enterprise Agile Coach. An Enterprise Agile Coach can work at all levels in an organization. They bring deep experience in agile as well as organizational development, change, culture, and have the professional coaching skill needed to directly coach the leadership team in what it means to have agile be a force for harnessing change.
How to spot a Good Agile Coach
Today, everyone claims to be an “Agile Coach”. So, do your homework, look for well-recognized and recommended candidates within Agile communities and check references. Here are some qualities of good Agile Coaches:
- Questions – Good Coaches ask a lot of questions to carefully examine the situation before working with you. He or she needs a full understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve.
- Ability to Measure Results – Good Coaches can measure results. Important measures include quality, time to market, customer satisfaction, velocity, business impact, etc.
- Engagement – Good Agile Coaches will not coach remotely (exclusively), they will be present at your company at least 3 to 4 days a week. The goal is to demonstrate good culture, collaboration, and techniques that make agile teams productive, efficient, and self-sufficient.
- The Truth – Sometimes Coaches need to deliver brutal truth to drive change. Whether it’s an over-controlling manager blocking change or other cultural challenge, it might be necessary to take a drastic action for the greater good.
- Visibility – Expect a Coach to dig deep into the processes and structure of your organization to find out its strengths and weaknesses. A good Coach increases transparency, even if some employees do not like it.
Before Hiring, Bear in Mind . . .
- Your purpose – Make sure you have a clear idea of the problems you want to solve. Great Coaches, of course, asks you about your purpose and vision right at the start.
- Work with your leadership team – All change requires leadership, so an Agile Coach needs support from your leadership team to be successful. So, understand that your Agile Coach will work with your organization’s leaders.
- An IT background is important – Technical experience makes it far easier for Scrum Masters to relate to the team and the work. The same goes for Agile Coaches. Great Agile Coaches strive to understand the technical and business domain to tailor their guidance accordingly.
- Be wary of big consulting companies – Big consulting corporations may have great name recognition, but they’ll likely have an equally large price tag. Some companies follow their process whether it fits your organization or not. Others may sub-contract Agile Coach services to meet emerging needs.
Resist the do it yourself temptation – Some companies simply listen to what needs to be done and say: “Great, we can do that ourselves”. Be aware of the time and money you could spend doing it yourself instead of hiring a fully experienced Coach to do.
Want to know more?
Client Resources is the partner many clients nationwide know and trust to help plan and execute successful agile transformations. Are you in the middle of an agile transition and could use some help? Are you considering an agile transition and need a place to start? We’d love to hear from you. You can connect with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. To learn more about commonly used agile terms and concepts, view our agile glossary. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and then send me a message or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom is the Practice Director for Agile Consulting Services at Client Resources Inc in Omaha, NE. He specializes in lean, agile, and scrum helping companies catapult their market position by building extremely high performance development organizations.