A Research Paper By Yin Yong Tee, Business Coach, SINGAPORE
Agile Coach Responsibilities
As an Agile practitioner, I have always been fascinated by coaching and how it can be applied in my role and the organizations I serve.
One of my formal job titles in the Agile industry is known as an “Agile Coach”. Although the word coach is present in the title, we can see from the respective definitions below that there are differences involved.
Firstly, “ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”[i]
Whereas the responsibilities of an Agile coach can be defined as:
“An agile coach helps organizations implement the agile methodology by developing agile teams and facilitating the organizational culture change necessary for sustained agile success.”[ii]
Coupled with my experience in ICA, I can now see the differences between coaching as defined by ICF versus the responsibilities expected of an Agile Coach.
As such, I am keen to explore the ways we can apply the ICF definition of coaching in the various context of Agile coach responsibilities. This research paper will thus focus on the following topics:
- Agile Coaching at the individual level
- Agile Coaching at the team level
- Agile coaching at the organizations level
At the end of this paper, it will serve as a better understanding of how coaching can be incorporated into the role of an Agile practitioner/Agile Coach.
What is Agile?
To start, Agile is defined as “Agile is an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer headaches. Instead of betting everything on a “big bang” launch, an agile team delivers work in small, but consumable, increments.”[iii]
As an Agile coach, the role is to lead transformational change management within the organization and support it in understanding how to adopt Agile values and principles into its culture.
The Four Agile Values Are as Follows[iv]:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
The Twelve Agile Principles Are as Follows[v]:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviors accordingly.
As such, there will be times whereby the role has to take the stance of a trainer or mentor to impart the required Agile values, principles, and methodologies to the organization at the different levels.
Holding the role of a change leader, there will also be times whereby the Agile coach can take on a coaching stance and this paper will explore the various levels on how this can be applied.
Agile coaches will have the opportunity to coach individuals at all levels of the organization. These can range from individual contributors to the CEO of the organization.
We can apply coaching at all levels of coaches are clear in when they will be providing information as a trainer and when they will be supporting as a coach.
For individuals’ level, coaches should evaluate each situation based on 3 key factors.
- Whether the individual has the information/knowledge to resolve his/her challenge
- Whether the individual is expecting to be coached
- Pros and Cons of taking a coach stance versus a trainer/mentor stance
As Agile coaches, there will be occasions whereby the individual does not have the required information to come up with a solution. One instance of this could be knowing how to write user stories (requirements) or product backlog items as a product owner.
Thus, it will not be possible for Agile coaches to take a coaching stance during this situation. However, if the individual faces a challenge in their mindset. The agile coach should seek to adopt a coaching stance and support the individual in understanding how to make a change in their mindset for the Agile way of working which promotes collaboration and transparency.
Questions here can include:
- What makes this important for you to tackle right now?
- How would a change in mindset serve you in this new way of working?
- What is the first step you can take towards this change?
The other key consideration is if the individual is expecting to be coached. As an Agile coach, usually the individual we interact with expects us to propose the solutions rather than them figuring out the solutions.
Hence, it is important for Agile coaches to first explain the difference between coaching and training before taking either stance. We need to empower the individual to choose so that a viable coaching relationship can be formed if selected.
The third consideration would be to gauge the urgency of the situation. In our roles as Agile coaches, when we are engaged to coach an individual, it is often because of challenges raised by others or the individual themselves. There may be situations whereby the individual can and wish to be coached but due to the urgency of the situation, we may have to adopt a hybrid approach and provide training along with coaching to the individual instead.
Agile Coaching at Team Level:
Coaching at the team level is slightly different due to the different contexts involved.
As an Agile coach, depending on the maturity of the team, we will have to adopt different stances. For new to Agile teams, it is often that a training stance will be taken to guide the team to the Agile mindset and its various methodologies.
We can apply coaching at the team level through one of the key principles of Agile which is regular reflection and adjustment.
This is also commonly known as a retrospective event where the team gets together to reflect on what can be improved based on reflection. As an Agile coach, we can apply coaching to the team by ensuring we do not provide solutions or action steps.
Questions here can include:
- What goals should the team target go forward?
- How can we make progress towards the goals identified?
- What support does the team need to act on the action plan?
For team-level coaching in Agile, there may be times whereby we are involved in brainstorming or discussions. Hence, it is important to know when and how we are participating as a coach and when we are engaging the team as fellow participants.
Agile Coaching at Organizational Level
Agile coaching at an organizational level often relates to enterprise coaching.[vi] This refers to the Coach taking a leading role in understanding the organizational challenges and how it can adopt the Agile mindset into its culture. The coaching application at an organizational level will be more relatable to coaching senior executives that can support major organizational change efforts that will be required for the successful adoption of the Agile mindset.
This is where some of the individual level’s context can be brought in during the coaching sessions. The key difference here is to support the senior executives in understanding their why of undergoing an agile transformation journey and how the organization can adopt this culture as a whole.
Questions here can include:
- What support is needed for the progress envisioned?
- How would the changes serve the organization going forward?
- How can the coach support you in this journey ahead?
The questions here are more nuanced and specific to the organization and the role of the senior executive. However, the stance of a coach remains the same in that we partner with our clients to inspire them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
Coaching Has a Clear Role to Play in the Responsibilities of an Agile Coach
Reviewing the information presented in this paper and the research conducted, we can see that Coaching has a clear role to play in the responsibilities of an Agile coach coupled with the other stances ranging from teaching to mentoring and more as seen in the diagram below[vii].
As an Agile coach, the most likely coaching model for the role will be the hybrid model of blended coaching. This is whereby the Coach needs to evaluate different situations in their role and adopt the most appropriate stance for it. This will ultimately be derived from experience as well as building on the various knowledge of the stances required in their role.
For future research purposes, more can be done to investigate the portion of coaching versus the other stances in the role of an Agile coach. This can then be used to guide Agile coaches on their focus areas and how they can improve themselves as a coach to bring out the best for their clients and organizations.
[i]International Coaching Federation. ICF, the Gold Standard in Coaching
[ii]White, S. What is an agile coach? A valuable role for organizational change
[iii]Atlassian. What is Agile? | Atlassian
[iv]Scrumalliance.org. The Agile Manifesto - The Key Principles for Incremental Development
[v]Scrumalliance. org. The Agile Manifesto - The Key Principles for Incremental Development
[vi]Agilemania. How do I become an Enterprise Agile Coach- Agilemania
[vii]Agile Coaching Institute. Agile Coaching Resources - Agile Coaching Institute