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Answering Your Questions about Agile Coaching

Answering Your Questions about Agile Coaching

Thank you to everyone who attended my 3-part webinar series on agile coaching! There were lots of great questions and unfortunately I did not get a chance to answer all of them during the webinar itself. So, to follow up, I thought I would answer a few in a blog post. Hope this is helpful!

Q. Is agile coaching a full-time job?

A. It certainly can be! Where you are likely to see full-time onsite agile coaches is in a larger organization that is doing a full-scale move to agile practices. In those situations there are lots of teams, ScrumMasters, Product Owners and stakeholders that need help, so there is plenty of work to fill a person’s time. Coaches who are Change Agents and Diagnosticians work full-time too, but often divide their time between several organizations.

Q. How long does an agile coach work with any one organization?

A. The answer to that question depends on the level of agile adoption maturity of the organizations involved and what they are trying to accomplish. I have clients I have worked with for over 5 years. They are large organizations that have an ongoing commitment to spreading agile throughout their companies and also to having mature teams get increasingly better at using agile practices. My visits with them can be infrequent but then occasionally there will be a cluster of training and coaching as a new work group or division is brought on board. Remember the phrase we mentioned in the webinar: “progressive independence.” The idea is not to be with your clients all day, every day. It is to prepare them to lead their own change.

Q. Does a resource manager make a good ScrumMaster? In our organization the team looks up to their resource manager and he is the person who can remove impediments, so it seems he would be a natural choice for ScrumMaster, yes?

A. ScrumMasters, like agile coaches, must always keep in mind that goal of progressive independence. And therein lays the tricky part of resource managers being ScrumMasters: it is often hard for their inherent supervisory relationship to allow a team to become more autonomous. Instead, often teams look to their ScrumMaster/manager to tell them what to do, and to approve their decisions. That is not a pattern of a self-managing team. Even when the ScrumMaster/ manager completely controls his/ her behavior and is not directive with the team, I often still find the team less willing to voice concerns and problems in the presence of the ScrumMaster. They are keenly aware that this person has control over their annual review and raise, and this makes them reluctant to show anything that might be seen as “weakness.”

Q. Who does an agile coach work with primarily? ScrumMaster? Product Owners? Teams?

A. Agile coaches should work with individuals and groups whose challenges interest them and who they think they can help. In my own coaching practice, I rarely work directly with Scrum teams. Instead, my focus is working with other agile coaches and with organizational leadership to strategically plan a full-scale move to agile practices. When I first started coaching I could see there was something of a lack of coaches who came from the world of management and could help leaders tie agile transformation activities directly to corporate goals. Instead, it was all about the team. Management, if anything, was viewed as a road black to work through. Much of my agile coaching career has been removing that misconception. I find, in general, that leadership is most supportive to agile when they understand how it will directly help the issues they are held accountable for, like market expansion and revenue goals.

Q. How do I learn to become an enterprise-level agile coach?

A. The short answer is get experience – LOTS of it, and get the support of a mentor. This is one of the key reasons I created my new course, Professional Agile Coaching®. In my own practice I am constantly asked for referrals of good coaches (especially embedded coaches) to work with my client organizations. As I mentioned in the webinar series, there are simply not enough good coaches to go around! And, in looking at the training available for coaches, I found that most of it was very basic and beginner-oriented, more like how to be a “super ScrumMaster.” While training like that can certainly get you started on your coaching career, it is not going to take you to a place where you can orchestrate an agile transformation in an organization of 50,000+ people. The idea behind Professional Agile Coaching® is that it gives you the tools you need, when combined with experience, to understand and be able to execute all element of agile coaching well enough that you can take your coaching practice to the highest level.

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