What “Coaching Agile”​ really means

Very frequently I hear this question that usually starts a conversation like this one.

They: What do you really do?

Me: I help my organization dealing with change so they can build a better product

Not happy still, the inquiry goes on…They: but what do you really coach?

I coach Agile. A way of working formed by a mindset with principles and values and supported by some frameworks like Scrum.

They: So, you are a Scrum Master with pills?

Not really. A Scrum Master works with one of few teams and ensures they follow Scrum Framework prescription – a set of roles, dynamics and artifacts that tells the team how they should work.

An Agile Coach looks at the organization and together with the leadership drives a change, where, for instance, can be applied framework like Scrum, Kanban, etc

And the dialog goes on…

Agile Coach coaches Agile.

But what is Agile? Explaining it is very hard especially to someone with a distorted view taken out from one-sided Agile Consultants, Prescriptive Scrum Masters or misinformed people.

Nuno asked, “Is the project on schedule?” Will said, “We do Agile. We don’t follow a schedule.” Nuno was left wondering how he might report this to the governance teams.

Anabela asked, “What scope will be delivered in the next 2 months?”, to which Roberto answered, “We are agile. We do not estimate all work up front. All I can tell you is that we complete 50 story points each sprint.” Roberto had no idea on how much time the remaining work would take and more importantly if all the remaining work was identified.

As an executive, a project manager, or anyone who’s part of the enterprise governance process, you are left wondering if Agile was the right thing to do.

I still see many people confusing agile with Agile. One is a trait. The other an approach. We do Agile. We are agile.

In 2014, Dave Thomas wrote this: Once the Manifesto became popular, the word Agile became a magnet for anyone with hours to bill, or products to sell. It became a marketing term, cooped to improve sales in the same way that words such as eco and natural are. A word that is abused in this way becomes useless—it stops having meaning as it transitions into a brand.” Well, I believe it just got worst since then.

Good words help us communicate effectively and we’ve lost the word Agile. No wonder you start seeing a new wave of authors claiming Agile is Dead – Long live Agility! Why? Because Agility is harder to misappropriate. And that’s important because you can buy and sell labels. Attend a short course, and suddenly you can add a label to your job title. But you can’t buy experience—you can only earn it.

Agile is an iterative approach to deal with Change, composed by a mindset (principles and values) and processes (practices, frameworks) so teams start work with more Agility.

Coach

Agile Coaching is about enabling people to work in Agile, meaning, with Agility. It’s not a cut and pastes Agile. The approach is tailored to the company culture, business specializations, its people and the desired vision. I would even say, there must be a permission and a wish to change the culture.

Their mission is to spawn Happier Product Teams that are able to better handling complexity and unexplored territory. This will create Happier Customers that will have earlier and meaningful product releases. With that, Happier Stakeholders with better results.

It could be something so basic (and powerful) as planting this seed:

What to do:

  1. Adjust the Goal
  2. Find out where you are
  3. Take a small step towards the goal
  4. Adjust your understanding based on what you learned
  5. Repeat

How to do it:

When faced with two or more alternatives that deliver roughly the same value, take the path that makes future change easier.

A few concrete examples of Agile Coaching activities

There are several models that summarize the major attributes and domains of acting for Agile Coaches. I personally like the Agile Coaching DNA model. Sometimes there is nothing better than examples to explain a concept.

Activities and Objectives:

  • Conduct assessments to identify what changes/improvements are necessary
  • One-on-one sessions with any team members, Product Owners, Team Captains, etc
  • Facilitate critical retrospectives to identify organizational improvements
  • Provide training regarding agile practices
  • Help managers and leaders to embed practices of agile management in their routines
  • Facilitate sessions to map the company’s current value stream and, identify pain points and bottlenecks
  • Assist the organization to create strategies for data-visualization/accessibility
  • Help the teams to create effective information radiators 
  • Help the team to implement good practices that improve quality and increase productivity

Summing up

Evermore product companies need to react fast to the needs and want from demanding users, and dealing with change is fundamental for companies survival.

Many organizations don’t lack knowledge or techniques to do Agile. They don’t lack brilliant people too. Sometimes what they do need is someone with expertise in several trades that will give awareness and support them in any mean necessary until they reach the desired outcome.

They: You say you coach Agile…what do you really do?

I help people collaborate better towards a shared and desired goal.