Agile Forest

Find your path to agility with Renee Troughton

Agile Coaching as a term hasn’t been around since the advent of Agile. It was a term that gained traction after the publication of Lyssa Adkin’s “Coaching Agile Teams” book in 2010.

Before then, most people were either Scrum Masters or other crazy terms including process improvement (which always felt at odds with the manifesto) or continuous improvement manager to delivery leads.

Scrum Masters who had a few years of experience under their belts understood that a two day training on Scrum wasn’t enough to learn what worked and what didn’t and began to see patterns of poor practice and better practice emerge through their own test and learn experiments. Over time, they helped to kick off new teams who were trying Agile for the first time. They did this by working with new Scrum Masters and guiding them on the pathway to change.

It wasn’t a role that just came to be one day, it evolved over time to be what it is today. It was initially driven from both an opportunity to scale Agile ways of working quickly and a desire to share patterns of success (and failures to hopefully not repeat). This is why as a community, Agilists tend to have a higher centricity towards sharing information – we are focused on “uncovering better ways of delivering software” (or hopefully now better ways of achieving outcomes). The down side to this is that we also tend to be too focused on the “new shiny” thing rather than practically just focusing on the basics that we know will move us there.

This is what we have evolved to. But what do organisations need? What are their expectations for coaches?

I have had a lot of feedback in the past that I tend to be different from other coaches. I’ve even seen people refer to coaches as two different types, often not in good terms. One commentator referred to the schism as “fluffy agile sprinkles coaches” who are all oriented around mindset and “delivery coaches” who are all oriented around practices and techniques. To this commentator, the middle ground of coaches who are both and have the expertise to know when to use one approach over the other is a dark art that few know well.

I have canvased a number of different roles who sit at different levels of multiple organisations and asked them around what their expectations for their coach is. Rightly or wrongly, the following is a compilation of the feedback I received:

  • I need someone who is pragmatic and flexible. I don’t need a purist answer, I need something that will work for my situation given where people are at right now in their learning journey.
  • I need someone who can pivot quickly on recommendations or facilitate under great uncertainty.
  • I need someone who will give me 1:1 time and tell me the hard truths, giving me a perspective that others wouldn’t ordinarily feel comfortable to do so. Note: this was said by people who actively wanted a coach rather than being given a coach, it is my experience that people who are given a coach don’t want this and you need to build trust and support before someone will give permission in this scenario.
  • I need someone who focuses on the big picture, I don’t want everything to be about “Is my stand up going longer than fifteen minutes”, I want them to be looking at whether we are delivering faster, with better outcomes and sustainability.
  • I need someone who will help me to widen my toolkit so I am better at solving problems more effectively, this could be either practical techniques or mindset/personal techniques
  • I want someone who can help me understand the “why” behind certain Agile concepts rather than the what.
  • I want someone to help me to have more effective relationships with those around me – especially in helping me to manage up when my manager is still thinking the old way
  • I want someone who not only brings Agile knowledge but also has domain knowledge and experience in my domain
  • I want someone who will understand my organisation and how things work in my area (the system I work in) before giving me advice
  • I need a coach to know that it is a journey and that I have other things that I need to focus on which may mean my journey is slower than they would like
  • I need my coach to recognise what I have done right. I’ve been working for many years and experienced many successes, all of me doesn’t need “fixing”
  • I don’t want to be “coached” to get to answers all the time, sometimes I just need to know things that I don’t know which means sometimes I need advice or training
  • I need options and examples of what has worked elsewhere and what are the pro’s and cons so that I can make an informed decision
  • I need to be shown what good looks like which means sometimes I need a coach to be a “player” in the system
  • I need someone who will help push along continuous improvements, which means owning them. I know some of my people need to do this, but there are so many issues I could really use more help.
  • I don’t care whether it is Agile solutions or something else, I want my coach to help us with whatever solution that will resolve the problem

How does this line up to what you are expecting from your Agile Coach (or from what you are expecting of yourself as an Agile Coach)?

2 thoughts on “What do people want Agile Coaches to do?

  1. Steven says:

    Hey Rene, thank you for putting this together!

    The feedback is similar to what I have seen in various forms and degrees. I would ask for further exploration of a couple of feedback items:

    1. “I need to be shown what good looks like which means sometimes I need a coach to be a “player” in the system.” — While I agree domain knowledge is important, and past experience in the domain in beneficial, I think a coach can lose objectivity if they become a player. I prefer to view these types of situations as “modeling to teach” until the player can do it themselves.

    2. “I need someone who will help push along continuous improvements, which means owning them. I know some of my people need to do this, but there are so many issues I could really use more help.” Coaching should not own improvement items. The organizational unit (enterprise, program, team, individual) need to own their improvements. The coach provides space for them to discover improvement items and calls for accountability, but should have no ownership.

    Just my $0.02. What do you think?

    1. I believe there is a difference between what coaches think they should do versus what clients think they should do. This difference is the worthy discussion.

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