No doubt the title caught your attention but, let’s be clear, we are not actually trying to insult any Agile Coaches out there! If you would like to use Agile Coaching to improve your organisation, it’s vital to find the right person to spearhead such an important transformation.
Many people are now aware that working with Agile principles delivers products fast and efficiently. Agile methodologies – like Scrum, XP, Kanban, and others – follow the Agile Manifesto to achieve optimum results.
But Agile is not just an approach or methodology. It also entails a cultural change to your organisation; one which brings about overall transparency and visibility in all projects. With so much change in store, it’s therefore vital to be clear on all the facts before you go ahead and hire an Agile Coach.
What does an Agile Coach do?
Basically, an Agile Coach helps organisations rethink and change the ways they go about development, addressing such issues as workflow practices and team collaboration. Agile Coaches take on many different roles, applying their industry knowledge to help companies achieve optimum results.
According to the Coaching roles originally taught by Agile experts, Esther Derby and Don Gray, there are nine roles that sum up the responsibilities of Agile Coaches. They vary from being a reflective observer: “You do it, I will just watch and tell you what to do”, to being a partner: “We will do it together”.
Let’s take a look at all nine roles in a little more detail:
- Counselor – The Counsellor listens carefully to evaluate problems and helps create a safe working environment for Agile to work successfully. For example, introducing new Agile practices can create tension among employees and a Counsellor uses his or her active listening skills to create an environment in which everyone can freely discuss issues without fear.
- Facilitator – A good Agile Coach often acts as a facilitator, so instead of teaching or mentoring, he/she facilitates conflict resolution, as well as establish meetings to improve group dynamics, and so on.
- Reflective observer – As a reflective observer, your Coach observes interactions between everyone within the organisation, often opening up an external perspective they may not have noticed themselves before.
- Coach – Coaching differs from teaching or mentoring because of the focus shifts from knowing to unlocking. Coaches help unlock knowledge through powerful questions and support, the assumption being that everyone has the tools to be able to solve their own problems.
- Teacher – If an Agile Coach notices a lack of knowledge within a team, they take on a teacher role. Sometimes he/she helps reinforce previously learned practices or knowledge which saves teams from struggling through.
- Technical advisor – When a team has a certain technical difficulty, the Agile Coach accesses or gives technical advice to help deal with the issue.
- Hands-on-expert – Hands-on-expert role is most suitable when working within an organisation that is new to Agile because people are naturally unsure where to start.
- Modeler – People often struggle when they adopt new practices. After all, learned behavior can sometimes be very hard to change to suit new Agile practices. The Agile Coach helps by modeling new, aligned behaviors which later become habits.
- Partner – Most external Agile Coaches can’t be partners in the true sense as they are not employees of the organisation. Therefore, they are not held responsible for achieving goals despite being deeply involved with them.
The aim is to create a long-term change; one that improves productivity through building the right partnerships. The benefits of Agile Coaching affect individuals, teams or entire organisations – sometimes all three.
Agile Coaches help establish a long-term strategy across the entire organisation. Following a pilot project, they periodically check that teams remain on track with the new Agile techniques, fine-tuning behaviors as and when required.
What’s the difference between an Agile Coach and a Scrum Master?
Often confused, there are actually two main differences between the two: Firstly, Scrum Masters ensure teams follow the Scrum process while Agile Coaches focus more on the organisation as a whole, with an emphasis on the change agenda. Through their extensive knowledge and expertise, Agile Coaches implement an overall vision.
Secondly, Agile Coaches are generally transitory, spreading their knowledge and energy throughout the company, while Scrum Masters are tactical Coaches, working at the team level. The team´s need for a Scrum Master is not transitory as he/she must continuously maintain and develop strategies.
What to look out for when hiring an Agile Coach
Agile has become so popular that all kinds of consulting companies are jumping on the bandwagon with Agile Coaching services. But unfortunately, they don’t always have the right skills for the job.
Before hiring an Agile Coach, it’s a good idea to bear in mind the following:
Everyone calls themselves an Agile Coach nowadays – Make sure the one you choose is well-recognized and recommended within Agile communities. Get him/her to speak in depth to an executive within your organisation as this helps gauge whether they are likely to be competent enough to bring real value to your business.
Avoid hourly rates – We believe that it is the outcome you should pay for, not the hours it takes to achieve it. Great Coaches measure results which, after all, prove whether investing into your Agile Coach has been worth it.
“By the book” practices – Unfortunately, many consultants apply theories without ever having had any practical experience. A great Agile Coach should have several years of practical experience to draw on in order to advise their clients with full authority.
Ability to work with executive leaders – Good Coaches are able to bridge the gap between teams and executives. This requires an understanding of the language used at executive level. Unfortunately, many Coaches are ex-software developers with very little knowledge of businesses, which can hinder achieving the desired results.
Using recruiters to hire Agile Coaches – Agile Coaching is a relatively new role and not many recruiters have enough experience in this sphere yet. Remember that a certificate is not always the only criteria to be eligible for the job. Experienced Agile Coaches do not generally work with recruiters; therefore, if you’re looking to hire an Agile Coach, it’s a good idea to seek out local groups, online communities or Meetups which might offer you good recommendations along the way.
Your purpose – Make sure you have a clear idea of the problems you want to solve. You need to be transparent about them to your potential Coach, and a great Coach, of course, asks you about your purpose and vision right at the start.
Keeping an open mind – A good Coach challenges your assumptions, organisational processes and structure. He or she even risks getting “fired” as a result of challenging your status quo. Although it often hurts when someone challenges you with radical, new ideas and suggestions, it’s important to be open to change without falling into the trap of being defensive or unwilling to listen.
Working with you and with your leadership team – All change requires leadership so it makes sense that an Agile Coach must work with your organisation’s leaders. If the Agile Coach works solely at team level, a lack of contact with executives makes Coaching inefficient and unsustainable.
Do not try it yourself – 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 so.
How to spot great Agile Coaches
Questions – A good Coach asks several questions and carefully examines the situation before working with you. He or she obviously needs to fully understand the problems you are trying to solve.
Ability to measure results – Improvements are measured by results and good Coaches are able to measure them as they work with your teams. Important measures include quality, time to market, customer satisfaction, velocity, business impact and more…
Engagement – An Agile Coach needs to be present at your company for 2-3 days a week, and on a full-time basis in the case of very large organisations. The goal is to gradually make teams fully Agile, rendering the Coach obsolete over time.
The brutal truth – Sometimes Coaches need to tell you the brutal truth if they are to drive change. In the case of an over-controlling manager who is blocking change and improvements, it might be necessary to take a drastic decisions against his/her will, such as a transfer to a different department, redundancy or even firing.
Visibility – Expect a Coach to dig deep into the processes and structure of your organisation to find out its strengths and weaknesses. A good Coach increases transparency, even if some employees do not like it.
Why use evolution4all?
One of our greatest assets is our capacity to work at all levels. We do not offer daily coaching. Instead, we tackle concrete, long-term challenges. Unlike many companies that apply Agile practices “by the book”, we pride ourselves on carefully considering the context in which organisations work – an interesting concept in countries like Germany that have a largely process-driven culture.
At evolution4all we have developed the 9-month “Organisational Mastery” product. This is suitable for companies that require alignment between executive leadership and delivery teams. The aim is to create a coalition that drives change and internal innovation alongside shared knowledge throughout the organisation.
You can read more about Organisational Mastery here.
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We have developed a free assessment in the form of a Scorecard to help you establish which areas of business you need to focus on to achieve your particular Organisational Mastery.
Click here for an initial analysis of 5 key areas of your organisation.
Meanwhile, we would be happy to answer any queries you might have about our services. Please do not hesitate to get in touch at: [email protected]