Agile Coaching for Your Agile Company

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purposes of discussion.

The coach not only nurtures the community, but also uses it to stimulate new ideas and problem solving across teams, groups, and organizations. In this venue, the coach can gently steer discussion and inject very sophisticated thinking without being directive or dismissive of others. Having such communities can spark new efforts in innovation and productivity boosts long after the start of the Agile transition.

4. Modeling Agile Behaviors

The most critical thing an Agile coach can do within the organization is to continually model the behaviors he or she is trying to develop. Some of these behaviors include facilitation, constructive conflict navigation, failing fast and making the failures and other learning opportunities highly and continuously visible. See Davies and Sedky’s book on Agile coaching and Tabaka’s book on collaboration for details. In Adkins’ book on coaching Agile teams (see Further Reading), she lists many of these same behaviors for the Agile coach, one of which is “your favorite goes here” -- reflecting that the coach must always be adapting to the situation at hand within the organization. Modeling such continuous improvement behaviors is key for an Agile coach.

Part III – Creating Your Internal Coach

5. What To Look For in an Agile Coach

5.1. Values

As the Agile Manifesto declared better ways of working, we propose a potential set of values to seek out in an Agile Coach:

  • Engaging over telling

Just as Agile philosophy values interactions between people, so will a good Agile coach make use of interactive teaching techniques by briefly discussing new concepts and then engaging students in discussions, activities, and experiments that encourage people to participate in their own learning. This skill can range from an untutored individual style to years of perfecting professional training skills.

  • Investigative style of observation (and Socratic questioning) over interrogation

While the Agile coach may have greater knowledge of Agile practices than anyone in the organization, they should have the wisdom to realize that they may not always have the right answer. Therefore, an Agile coach will not ask questions such as “Why are you not doing pair programming?” but instead allow teams to discover and decide their best solution. To accomplish this, the coach may ask things such as “What problems are you having with quality? What do you see working or not working with current practices? Is there an alternative practice we could try that may accomplish better results? Have we considered pair programming?” Such a line of questioning allows the team to select practices that work best for their environment rather than have some new Agile practice forced upon them.

  • Facilitation over directive leadership

An Agile coach will ensure that all voices are heard rather than dictating an agenda. While achieving this balanced input through facilitation, the Agile coach will also help the team reach consensus on decisions rather than make a decision for the team. The coach should be capable of providing this facilitation to any level of the organization from delivery teams up through executive management so that they all can realize the benefit of collaborative self-management.

  • Community-oriented over hierarchical structures

An Agile coach sees the organization as an ecosystem and realizes that one small change in a practice or a role can ripple through the organization in unpredictable ways. So each change is treated as an experiment that runs through enough plan-do-check-act cycles to determine if the change is effective or detrimental for the team and the organization. This is a very different view from traditional organizational structures where we try to compartmentalize work and people in hierarchies or matrices. People

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