The demand for Agile Coaches is growing fast. Companies nowadays recognize the added value of an Agile Coach, but job descriptions vary widely. The Agile Coach does not seem to exist.
In contrast to what most people think Agile Coaching is not all about the Agile expertise. It is more about the second part of the title: ‘coach’. Given the various job descriptions, we can tell not a lot of people know what this job entails. What are the characteristics of a successful Agile Coach?An Agile Coach is someone who has the ability to get a point across. Someone who can advise and carries out the Agile mindset for the purpose of challenging organizations to step out of their patterns. Agile working means changing the mindset of an organization. As a coach you provide the team or organization with the right tools to help them change their mindset. This often comes down to raising awareness of existing processes and the need for change. Agile Coaches share their knowledge with the team while motivating them to think ‘out of the box’. Taking responsibility is one of the most important lessons a coach teaches his team. The end goals is accomplished when the team fully operates without a coach.
Most important competences to be Successful Agile Coach
- An open attitude. It is very important that Agile Coaches are always open to new possibilities. Prevent creating your own pattern and own values. Otherwise you will not be successful as a coach.
- Do not judge. People do what they do because they do not know any better. As Agile Coach you are not supposed to have an opinion. You support the team with tools until they become aware of their mistakes. They will improve themselves if you are transparent about this. An Agile Coach creates an environment where people feel comfortable to make mistakes.
- Soft skills.It sounds obvious, but is very important for Agile Coaches to easily make contact and have good intentions to help people forwards. Your drive? To help people become the best version of themselves.
- Do not be afraid of resistance. Resistance is an essential part of change. Seeking resistance should trigger you as an Agile Coach. Agile is a way of working which is applicable for startups as well as for corporates. It depends on the type of organization whether Agile knowledge or the mindset is required. Most of the time mindset is integrated in the startup, it’s already part of their culture. Agile coaches help them with knowledge and discipline. Larger companies often have strong culture and management layers. The mindset, communication and especially letting go and facilitating is the biggest challenge here.
The primairy task of an Agile coach is coaching. This is something different than training. In both cases it is important to explain clearly, but a coach takes is one step further. A coach has to be able to make someone aware of themselves and make sure he or she takes action. It is not necessary to know the organization beforehand. A mix of internal and external coaches is often the most ideal situation. As a coach it is much easier to pin out difficulties when you are not already part of a culture. For an external coach is easier to recognize patterns and change the existing culture to an Agile culture. It is quite similar to relationship problems: if you cannot work it out together, you often ask help from an external person because they are objective and can see more.
You are successful as an Agile coach if you can put a finger on the existing way of thinking of an organization and show them how a different mindset drives value. You often see that organizations only partially apply the Agile way of working. If you ask people about the ‘why’, it often remains quiet. Realizing and identifying what part of the Manifesto you are focussing on as a team as well as a thorough understanding of why you do what you do, makes up the agile mindset for the organization. It’s not about the tool or method of working.
You can be happy with the results if:
- A self-organized team arises that can work independently;
- Managers practice and facilitate leadership instead of controlling it;
- The teams visibly add value to the organization;
- You professionals show the best of themselves and take ownership.
A success story? The F*ck Up Festival
An example which shows the Agile Coaches competencies is the F*ck Up Festival. Culture is very important in Agile. This varies greatly from country to country. There is an organization in Romania where a culture existed in which it was not done to make mistakes. As an Agile Coach, how do you change this culture as to a culture wherein it is ok to make mistakes?
During the Agile transformation we noticed that the traditional Romanian culture collided with the Agile principle. The company’s culture had to change to attain better results. They soon realized that this particular company lacked an environment in which mistakes are ok. This transparency would help the organisation further in the Agile transformation. As a way to stimulate this, the F*ck Up festival was born. Consider it a tool to help employees celebrate their mistakes and the mistakes of others, so that they accelerated as a team.
How did this work? Each retrospective that the team did was highlighting improvement points. Each team was instructed to be transparent about the made mistakes. As a game, points were awarded to the mistakes by the team (or individual). The biggest mistake won and got a spot on the ‘’Wall of Shame’’ where eventually everyone wanted to win a spot. The winner explained his biggest mistake and lessons learned on a big stage. He or she also won a dinner with all expenses on the boss.
The result of this alternative look at mistakes was that the Agile mindset was locked in everyone’s mind in no time. From now on, making mistakes was no longer a bad thing. The bigger and more transparent the mistake, the smaller the chance that the mistake occurs again. The transparency in processes increased as well as confidence within the organization.
Lessons learned from this case?
Cultural change is faster implemented when you make people aware. In this case, a simple tool/game was needed to make people aware of their mistakes. Being transparent is the only way you will improve as an organization.
You have no personal opinion as coach. You support the teams with tools in such way that the organization becomes aware of the current course of action. As a coach, you facilitate by pointing out the problem. The rest lies within the organization itself.
It only works if everyone is involved. The F*ck Up Festival had never been a success if it did not involve the entire organization. By adding a game element, people were triggered to participate. The culture of the Romanian company had not changed if workers did not want to change. Development teams, HR teams and administrations team all participated in the festival.
- You must be able to train as a coach. You really do not have to know everything or have a lot of knowledge about Agile to be a good Agile Coach. Training involves successful knowledge transfers. Coaching involves triggering people to do something they have not done before. That is your drive as a coach.
- Agile Coaches have all the answers. There is not one solution. Every organization has a different culture, hence different solutions to their problems. As a coach you help your teams to find answers through awareness.
- That everything will be all right with an Agile Coach. Some organizations think ‘we should be coached in our Agile transformation and you are an Agile Coach, so fix our problem’. That is not how it works. As a team you must be open for help. If you are not open, it will not work. Unwanted help is abuse. Take it or leave it, the choice is up to you. If you have to convince teams of Agile working, it will not work. Agile Coaches are only there to help you with the process.
Agile working changes constantly. I do not have a glass ball to see where it’s going, unfortunately. The job of an Agile Coach is somewhat similar to change management. Key is knowing how to ensure change in complex organizations. You must inspire people to adopt a new mindset and try different things. From my personal opinion: every day is a party if you like it and you succeed. Work pleasure will increase when organizations work Agile, clearing space for more creativity and focusing on value creation. This is the working culture of the future.
The biggest fear of any Agile Coach is most likely that ‘command and control’ will take over. That people get lazy and wait to tell other people what you need to do. As long as teams stay away from this, it will be fine.
Would you like to know more about Agile coaching or sharing knowledge with like-minded coaches? Then join Coachlab: the place for (Agile) coaches to practice their skills and learn more about Agile coaching in an informal way.
Maarten Tomassen is Agile Transformation coach, trainer and facilitator at Wemanity. As a professional coach, he guides Agile transformations at different companies. His hobby Visual design is one of the tools to change course at organizations. In addition, he hosts Coachlab: the place (Agile) coaches to practice their skills and learn more about Agile coaching in an informal way.