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What Is an Agile Coach and How to Become One?

what is an agile coach
We often hear the word ‘Coach’ in the field of Sports like Football Coach, Cricket Coach, Tennis Coach. Of late, we have been hearing about the word ‘Coach’ in different fields like healthcare, Enterprise, Leadership, Personal, Team, Strategy, etc. An Agile coach is a project management professional that helps scale Agile practices across a team or organization.

Who is a ‘Coach’?

A coach is one who has immense knowledge, wisdom, and command over the subject and can guide and enable people to address their problems and achieve greater heights. He coaches, mentors, gives feedback, and brings the best out of his ‘Coachee’.

Coach is the one who:

  • observes
  • gives feedback
  • enables you to find the solution

Anybody who wishes to EXCEL in their profession (which they are already good at) needs a coach. A coach helps to rectify the current practices followed, and enables them to address and overcome the issues or blockers.

In the technical fields – such as Software/hardware/ embedded/mechanical industries that are following Agile practices, we often get to hear the term ‘Agile Coach’. 

Organizations that wish to excel the Business Agility would need Agile Coaches.

Charles Darwin’s quote – ‘Survival of the fittest’, centuries ago, the very said quote applies to current businesses too. Whoever can manage the competition and address the ever-demanding customer requests effectively, can only survive in the industry. Agile helps organizations to quickly deliver value with high quality to customers in an incremental way. It also helps in addressing the ever-changing demands of the customer.

As we all know, ‘Agile’ has 4 values and 12 principles, that were initially introduced to enhance the Software development process, and later adopted by different industries. Agile focuses on ‘Incremental value delivery’ to the customer through an ‘Iterative approach’. 

Agile would accommodate the changing needs of the customer, teams work in smaller groups that are cross-functional and self-sustained. Value is delivered in smaller increments to customers than everything being delivered in one shot at the end. 

Agile Teams would Design, Develop, Test, and Release to Customers in a time span of 2 weeks, which is called Sprints/Iterations. 

Feedback is collected at regular intervals from the customer and incorporated effectively.

What is the need for an ‘Agile Coach’?

In large organizations, that are transitioning towards Agile from conventional or waterfall, there is a need to educate the employees/teams about the purpose behind the Agile transformation.

Then Educate the teams on ‘Agile Principles’ and implement them in the daily practices, include the relevant Scrum processes, support the teams throughout the transformation journey, collect customer feedback at regular intervals, and incorporate them in the upcoming iterations.

To execute these things, we need very good Agile Coaches.

What are the Attributes of a Good Agile Coach?

A person who has had good experience in Practicing Agile, has good facilitation skills, and has experience in coaching can become a good Agile Coach.

  • A coach should be Unbiased
  • Should not give the solutions directly,
  • Asking Powerful Questions, enable the Coachee to find the solution
  • Avoid Boolean questions _ because they would tend to end the conversations with mostly ‘yes’ or ‘No’ answers.
  • Questions should lead to getting more pieces of information
  • Keep the questions to be short
  • Questions should be more Inquiry-based

Agile coaches are the change agents who help organizations to achieve their Vision. These change agents understand the vision first and then enable the employees to work towards the vision of the organization. One size does not fit all, similarly same solution might not work for all organisations. Agile coaches first need to understand the problems of the organization and then offer the right solution to solve the problem.

Agile coaches play an important role in the transformation journey of any organization, as they have to alter the mindsets of the leaders, executives, and teams across the organization. They also help in eliminating Organizational Impediments.

Agile coaches should lead by example and maintain a sustainable pace for people to give their best without burning themselves out.

Who can be a Good Agile coach?

An Agile Coach is one who has strong expertise in specific domains / Agile practices/processes and also has great mentoring skills and enables people/organizations to perform very well so that they achieve their goals. The Strong expertise can be related to Technical/Business/ Transformation.

Agile Coach needs to have the skillsets of Teaching, Mentoring, Professional Coaching, and Facilitation.

An agile coach would play the role of a ‘Teacher’ in the initial stages of the Agile Transformation Journey when the Agile Principles are to be taught to the teams and also to explain the idea behind the need for the change.

He acts as a ‘Mentor’ when the teams are practicing the Agile Principles and are implementing them in their work.

He acts as a ‘Facilitator’ when teams/individuals need support in facilitating an event/process implementation. Teams need to learn and use the right facilitation techniques to make it more effective – for ex., liberating structures.

Facilitation is an art, where the Facilitator should not have any Authority, No Biasing, should be accepted by all, and should not give direct solutions, instead through sufficient inquiries enable the person/teams to identify the solution.

While these 4 are distinguished skills, they will be interchangeably used during the initial stages of transformation.

When the team is mature, there is a need for an Agile Coach to do the ‘Professional Coaching’ to make the teams become more sustainable and excel the performance.  By definition, Coaching is questioning, hence the coach will question the team/individuals and make the Coachee figure out their solution to the problem.

Is there a need to train the Internal employees of an Organization to be Agile Coaches or External Coaches would be better?

To start the journey of Agile transformation, it is recommended to have an External Agile Coach with internal employees supporting them. This would help in understanding the overall organization’s problems and coming up with unbiased solutions. Over a period of time, with sufficient experience in the agile transformation journey, employees would get scaled up and perform better as Agile Coaches.

To become a Successful Agile Coach, there are different Agile Coach certifications available that would help in enhancing the required skills. The below diagram gives an idea of different organizations offering certifications in Agile Coaching. 

Agile Coaching report

Please refer to the link for more about certification
–  ICP-ACC Certification

Agile Coach Glossary: 

Coach – One who coaches. 
Coachee – Can be an individual or a team who undergoes coaching.
Org – Organization

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