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Coaching Agile Teams

8 October 2015

I've been a consultant for my company for quite some time, and it's been a big learning experience for me. For every Agile team I have been on, I have identified and helped peers take their activities to the next level of Scrum performance.

In general, there are four types of Agile team members who require particular coaching:
  1. The Freaking-Out Fresher. A person who has read or heard about Agile or has joined the Agile team by mistake. This person wants to learn everything and never stops asking questions. The number of questions that the fresher asks amazes you more than the coaching problem you must solve.

    Coaching: Stop the questions, and encourage him or her to obtain Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM®) certification. Provide this person with a list of things to do as a checklist to follow.

  2. The Know-It-All. A person who has the knowledge of the world. These are mostly senior members with experience in project or program management. They have led non-Agile teams, have been managers or technical leads in a specific technology. They come with specific questions, and many times they have their own solution to the problem.

    Coaching: Provide specific advice, and understand the value that this person adds to the team. Appreciate the ideas offered and clear the smoke to make the person see where he or she stands as an individual, in a specific role, and within the team.

  3. The Practitioner. This is a person who has become a CSM, is practicing Scrum, and has performed a few sprints. The person has a list of questions related to his or her project. The person claims to know the right way to perform sprints and retrospectives and the problems faced while running them.

    Coaching: Focus on theory, and try to coach on a project level for a single sprint. Join a daily stand-up or retrospective and identify what needs to change. Your guidance is well accepted and appreciated and will yield results.

  4. The Bookworm. A person who has read more than what been published on the Internet. This person likes to learn to swim by taking a distance education course. Although this person has absolutely no questions, he or she has answers for every other question raised by peers. Ask the person to perform a role and he or she will prepare a checklist of things to do.

    Coaching: Guide the person by having him or her perform every role, giving the key to open the door rather than telling him or her how to open it. With the development of fast-track learning, we need to prove that his or her capability is much more than what comes from books. The person is ready when he or she asks a question for the first time.

The consultation

The coach should have performed multiple roles and gained vast experience, acting as a team member, in dealing with Scrum as a life cycle for delivering content. This is the experience that shadows you to help other teams with the difficulties they face in their own projects.

Customize your consultations to five major areas that you can term your "Done" statement before you start your coaching. Spend the first four hours understanding the team better. They want a coach for a particular issue or a specific problem.

The "Done statement" for coaching should include increasing the team's understanding to clarify things in the best way possible, with some real-life examples from your own career. It's not always possible to provide a solution at the end of coaching. The best thing to do is to make sure that your participants are a step ahead of the problem and that they can solve the puzzle on their own. If it is specific to a technology and the coach is an experienced person in that technology, a viable solution is possible.

Sharing your experiences

The coach has many things to share drawn from past experiences in real-world Scrum, coaching other teams, reading, and blogging. Always make sure that, as a coach, you provide experiences related to the specifics of coaching the problem at hand, as every consultant is different and every member and the role played are unique. The best learning can be gained only when you, the coach, understand the team and the team is willing to understand and implement the new ideas.

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.

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