Why the Agile Coach Is the Most Important Player on the Team
14 March 2016
Every athlete or team has a coach. The success of a team is always attributed to the captain or the group of players. eople typically overlook the coaching staff, which plays a critical role in building the team. How do we learn from this in our daily world of Agile?
Drawing from experience in Agile implementation, a typical project in IT would consist of several Scrum teams driven by ScrumMasters. Each team has the right composition of engineering personnel and product owner or business analysts. The Agile coach typically gets lost in this setup, and we really don't see lot of interaction between the Agile coach and the teams. Although several projects can look at the role of the coach differently, say part-time or full-time, in my opinion the responsibility of a coach is imperative to setting up the infrastructure for any project. He or she is the one who owns or should own the task of setting up the processes. In absence of the coach, even if the delivery model remains Agile, a lot of the work is done based on convenience.
I will illustrate this idea through scenarios that compare two projects in which Rally software was used as a tool for Scrum delivery.
Scenario: Project A's failure with Rally software
The structure of Rally's project management at a high level looked great, but at closer inspection, it had all sorts of complexities. Though the Scrum teams and releases were identified, the team failed to identify exactly what was being delivered. It seemed as though anything got picked up from anywhere and was made part of the release. There was no consistency. Moreover, the stories under the epics were all technical stories — for example, "Carry out a code update." There were no functional stories or business user stories. Even if there were, they were minimal. The stories never tied together logically.
A quick look at the Rally software would only add to the confusion and provided no clarity about functionality. The team also included people across several roles, such as business analysts, engineers, ScrumMaster, solutions engineer, project manager, Agile coach, operations manager, and so on.
Scenario: Project B's success with Rally software
Project B used Rally software as well. A quick look into Rally provided team members with clarity down to the granular level of what had happened in the project in past releases, what was planned, and inevitably the functionalities flew in a systematic fashion. There was no need for maintaining a separate solution document, as the user stories in Rally not only provided enough clarity into the high-level functionality but also into the specific activities. It was lean in resourcing and still high on deliverables.
Any individual joining a new project would like to work in one similar to Project B.
The difference between the two projects was pretty simple: the role the Agile coach played. A coach is the most important player in any project. The Project B processes were set up by the coach, who ensured that the right foundation was laid before the team started delivering value to the client. The coach also looked into the ease of operations it would generate in the future. Project A, on the other hand, started delivery from day one and had no structure. They brought in a coach, but much later and only part-time. By then, it was too late in the game to change the existing structure. Plus, the coach's regular absence meant that the teams never gathered to do a retrospective for the overall project.
To conclude, an Agile coach is not just a coach but perhaps the most critical player in the model of Agile delivery.
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