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Agile Coaching

Purpose and Impact

21 April 2014

Nirmaljeet Malhotra
Improving Enterprises

You have been told about your next assignment as an Agile Coach. Your first reaction is to check out the client website. You go to Glassdoor to get some employee feedback to assess the mood, get some company history, and you are all set to hit the ground running.

The Agile coach role comes up with its set of unknowns, and that is what makes it fun, exciting, and challenging. If you are a developer, you and your client know you are going to be writing code; if you are a business analyst, you and your client know that you are going to be gathering requirements. But if you are an Agile coach, more often than not your client knows very little about the end state where you want your teams to be before you sign off. So what are some of the things that you as an Agile coach should be doing as you land in an alien world, and what are some of the things that can potentially help create a solid foundation for an Agile adoption and transformation that make agility a way of life?

Here are some tips:
  • Investigate. Ask direct questions so you can understand why management wants to embark on the Agile journey, and surface any perceptions that the client might have about Agile methods, approaches, and the end state. Informing management about how Agile will impact them today and tomorrow will help set up a strong foundation for a sustainable Agile journey.
  • Assess. Assessment drives decision making and strategy. Every project and associated business is unique. This uniqueness can be driven by the market position, competition, volatility of business, or simply maturity at the top. Coming into a project with a preset mind-set about how agility will be achieved is a recipe for disaster. An initial assessment should bring out details of key challenges that development or the stakeholders or marketing is facing, which in turn will help you select the right method to achieve agility and derive its benefits. Remember, Agile is not one method; it is flexibility that facilitates adaptability.
  • Observe. This is the key characteristic of a great Agile coach. This includes observing management, teams, and individuals. Quite often, the start of an Agile transformation is a result of the opinion of one individual, who happens to be a C-suite executive, and it is a decision imposed on everyone else in the organization. Since the success of Agile revolves around organizing, collaborating, teamwork, and collective ownership, this is where the coach needs to bring in agility for management before taking it to the next level. Looking for opportunities to coach, learn, and improve by observing the landscape is important for a successful adoption.
  • Plan. The success of Agile depends on how individuals and teams are able to bring in the change in mind-set and thought processes. Experience suggests that implementing big changes tends to scare teams away. It also impacts productivity, since the focus shifts from the task at hand to process change. Early assessment of teams in terms of their knowledge of and maturity in Agile practices helps in defining a strategy for the change. In most cases, I like to focus on process changes before jumping into the intricacies of the process, including Agile engineering practices. The Shu-Ha-Ri approach is a great way to engage teams and individuals in effective and planned Agile adoption.
  • Connect as a coach. The effectiveness of a coach is driven by how he or she connects with the people being coached. In sports, a player or an athlete follows the instructions from the coach based on the trust that the end goal is to achieve the best possible result. A lot of times the player might not personally believe in what the coach suggests but follows instructions believing in the experience and knowledge the coach carries. At the same time, the coach understands the strengths and weaknesses of the athlete. This is where the connection between the two becomes critical. The coach explains the rationale behind each action that he wants the player to perform and constantly shares results that confirm improvement and progress that result in motivation to persist.
  • Inspire. Having worked with large IT services companies, I remember the days when the duration of the assignment would decide the rating and potential salary hike one would get at the end of the year. The longer you hang on, the better it gets. Talking about an Agile coach role, it's the opposite. A coach's effectiveness is gauged by how he or she manages the to inspire the teams to embrace agility and get to the point that members of the team start coaching one another and produce value as a well-oiled machine, all stemming from habit. Coaching provides a great opportunity to be the impact.
While the methods and techniques for process adoption are critical, human skills play a much bigger role as you embark on this journey to help people see what they can be instead of where they are.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.5 (2 ratings)


Gurtej Pal Singh, CSP,CSD,CSM, 4/23/2014 3:24:26 AM
Hi Nirmaljeet, It is very Informative and helpful article.
Krishnakumar Chinnappachari, CSD,CSM,CSPO, 7/16/2014 6:13:56 AM
Hi Nirmaljeeth, good article with useful tips.

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