Agile Coach Performance Management: Measure Yourself as a Coach, Not as a Manager


(an excerpt from Chapter 12 of the book Coaching Agile Teams[1])

Drive toward results. Direct the work of others. These are some phrases you might see in a managerial job posting or in a company’s performance review criteria. Before becoming an agile coach, I even took a job that included this phrase: “Herd the cats.”

The desire to control comes through loud and clear in the way most people’s worth is measured by their company’s performance management process. When it comes to performance review time, these controlling phrases crop up anew. Many successful agile coaches have been dismayed to learn that, despite the amazing results their teams produced and despite the new clarity and purpose that pervades the workplace, measuring their contributions still includes phrases such as “Herd the cats.”

Agile coaching, done well, is impossible to see from outside the team and can be invisible even to the team members. It’s hard for the people you coach to know how the thing you did with them contributed to their success. It’s hard for a team to see that being coached by you translated into their ability to create more results better. It’s close to impossible for management to see that your coaching was critical to getting the results they now enjoy from the agile teams.

This means that an agile coach may hear this from her manager, “Yes, I know the team performed far beyond anyone’s expectation, but what did you do? What was your specific contribution to their success?”

If the coach is doing a good job, that question should be impossible to answer concretely. In fact, if any agile team member is doing a good job, that question should be difficult to answer for their own performance, even though they have all kinds of artifacts to point to and say, “See? That’s my thing.” The artifacts themselves—software code, new processes, and marketing plans—are shared to such a degree that team members cannot easily separate them into “mine” and “yours.”

It’s even harder for an agile coach because a coach’s work products are invisible. Separating them from the overall success of the team cannot be done, yet performance review time often goads coaches into trying to do so.

Even though the way people measure the performance of managers and team leads doesn’t translate to measuring a good (or bad) agile coach, the models exist and frequently get used for this purpose. Although woefully mis-directed, they are simply the closest definition of “leader” readily available.

Changing the performance metrics your company uses for leaders and managers into ones suitable for agile coaching starts with you. When you embrace new and useful measures of good agile coaching and can articulate them, things can change. When you refuse to be measured by “directs the work of others” and instead stipulate “creates an environment where no one needs to be directed,” you can make a change.

Think about your own abilities, style, and impact as an agile coach, and use the ideas in Table 12.2 to measure yourself on how well you are moving toward the essence of excellent agile coaching.



Table 12.2?Agile coach performance measures

When you start assessing yourself according to these agile-workable measures, others will start to do so, too. At the start of a new assignment, use these measures to set forth the expectation of what agile coaching entails and, therefore, what people will and will not see when the coaching works well. In so doing, you will help people know what to expect, and the way people measure you will begin to change.

If you work for a company with a deep-rooted performance management process, expect that receiving formal recognition for good agile coaching might take some time. During the wait, however, measure yourself, and be content with your teams’ real accomplishments (and your very real contributions to them). When confronted with “You weren’t lt;insert your favorite controlling adjectivegt; enough,” simply restate the results the team produced, and know that they would not have achieved them were it not for your work.

It will change, but only if you don’t give up.

Deliver Your Own Performance Review
A surefire way to know whether you have “arrived” as an agile coach requires you to do one simple thing: Notice your impact. When you interact with the team and offer an insight or a powerful question, notice what happens next. Do they come up with better or simpler ideas? Do they move into action with clarity? Do they ask for what they need and require the “powers that be” to provide it?

When you coach people one on one, notice the impact of your conversation on the person you are coaching. Notice both the impact in the moment and the effect days or weeks later. Also, work up the courage to ask people about the impact of your coaching on them. Ask the following: What has changed in the way you view the work? What new ideas have emerged? How has your ability to stay in action changed?

Deliver your own performance review by considering your impact as an agile coach, reveling in the things you do well, and squarely facing the places where you disappoint yourself or others. No one else will judge you more harshly or fairly. Only you know when you have “arrived.”

[1] Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition (Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Cohn))

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