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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.

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: 1.8 (5 ratings)


Robin Hackshall, CSP,AdvCsm,CSPO, 3/14/2016 12:46:32 AM
I agree that the role of Agile Coach is a very important one and should not be underestimated. However, your article makes it sound as if the coaches job it to set up Rallly rather than coaching the team in Agile practices that with help the team iterate and improve throughout the development lifecycle. It would be interesting to hear what else your Agile Coaches brought to your teams to help them inspect and adapt.
Saad Ali Jan, CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO, 3/15/2016 3:31:34 AM
I partially agree with article. I do agree that Agile Coach is the key player but i will make different statements rather than portraying coach as the one, who defines the processes and makes sure that right foundation is laid. Since Team is Agile, so defined processes are already there is first place. If coach job is only that to defines processes than where is the Agile??? Secondly, coach should be enables for the team & make sure that when he is NOT there then team should be able to perform a particular job, here comes Self-organization.
Shashank Sinha, CSM,CSPO, 11/24/2017 1:01:57 AM
I have only given example of Rally as a tool and not tried to highlight that coach joh is to set up Rally. However, one thing i have strongly believed that coach job is to learn to do thing right and help the team self monitor their progress and any tool be it Jira, Rally etc which facilitates team gain more insight into the work they are doing along with a visualization of the end product is relevant

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