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5 Qualities of a Great Agile Coach

It’s easy for someone to call themselves an Agile coach. Certifications don’t necessarily guarantee real-world skill, experience, or even knowledge. And if you’re new to Agile frameworks, it can even be hard to tell if you’re getting value from a coach. So what does great Agile coaching feel like? Here are five things to look […]

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May 17, 2022

It’s easy for someone to call themselves an Agile coach. Certifications don’t necessarily guarantee real-world skill, experience, or even knowledge. And if you’re new to Agile frameworks, it can even be hard to tell if you’re getting value from a coach.

So what does great Agile coaching feel like? Here are five things to look for:

Their goal is your Agility, not dogma

First and foremost, the objective of any great Agile coach is helping you realize business Agility. That means helping you find a path to delivering potential value in rapid increments and the means to understand and use the continual feedback. Their concern should not be installing and standardizing any particular method across your organization as no one approach or practice is likely to fit every circumstance. A great coach will take a look at things like the structure of your organization, the arrangement of your existing value streams, and the cultural readiness of groups to accept and implement change. Their resulting recommendations may well include a collage of techniques, ideas for how and when to implement them, and support for the decisions you’ll need to make about enterprise changes to support Agile teams. A great coach knows that the best Agile framework is the one that suits your needs, your work, and your people. If your Agile coach tells you that a certain framework (whether it’s Scrum, Kanban, or scaling approach like SAFe) will solve every problem, that’s usually a clue that they don’t have any other tools in their toolbox.

They’ve got a drive to visualize

It’s so common to begin with a new group and find that, while everyone believes they have a shared understanding of the work, it turns out there are fundamentally different sets of fact in operation. A critical skill of great Agile coaches is the ability to take subtext and turn it into text. This means helping teams establish effective habits of visualizing work, knowledge, and strategy. Scrum or Kanban boards, team wikis, release plans with learning goals, impact maps, personas, etc. ensure teams know they have the same understanding. This helps them communicate that understanding to others. You can tell when an amazing coach has spent some time in a space because they leave information radiators (and the habit of creating them) in their wake.

They help you create a place where people can be people

A fundamental premise of every Agile framework is a humanistic understanding of work. Teams are made up people, not cogs or robots. We get the best results when we create spaces where their humanity is seen as a necessity, not a drawback. Great Agile coaches support this idea in myriad ways. For example, instead of pretending that all conflict can be avoided, a skilled coach knows it’s a normal part of human interaction. A strong coach teaches groups how to replace destructive patterns of conflict with constructive ones. They help leaders understand that challenges are often determined by the social dynamics of the people involved and the leader’s own presence. They focus institutional attention on the things that matter most (tangible value!) and help us hear everyone’s contribution to the pursuit of that goal.

They appreciate history and context

It’s one thing to understand the ‘rules’ of a method like Scrum or XP. It’s another thing entirely to understand the ‘why’s and how’s’ of those rules. A great Agile coach understands your context and can help you appreciate the implications of diverging from a rule. When faced with a snarl of institutional anti-patterns, skilled Agile coaches use a deep appreciation of your organizational history to help you decide which thread to pull first. As a result, the path of adaptations you embark on are likely to seem more tolerable to your teams and stakeholders. This will lay a groundwork of small wins that build support and momentum to sustain your continuing Agile transformation. Beware of any ‘coach’ whose methods seem to be mostly limited to explaining how things are supposed to work, and, if that fails, explaining it again.

They cultivate growth, not your dependency

A great Agile coach is a collaborator, not a consultant. They don’t view their role as being the expert who dispenses wisdom on all topics within their field. Instead, their job is to help you create an environment where you and your teams can answer questions for yourselves. The promise of Agile frameworks is to create organizations of high performing teams that embody a growth mindset. To make that happen, skilled Agile coaches help you nurture a culture of experimentation and empiricism. Teams in these kinds of environments become empowered to take risks and innovate, each group discovering their individual best methods of being a team, delivering value, and delighting your customers. In other words, a great Agile coach helps you create an organization that no longer needs an Agile coach. If you can only achieve when the coach is around to tell you what to do, that coach is primarily serving themselves and not you.

So, where can you find a coach like that?

If you’re looking for amazing, experienced Agile Coaches, we’ve got you covered. From planning a transition to rescuing a transformation that’s gone off the rails, from individual teams to very large enterprises, from private to public sector, our people have the skills, knowledge, and stories to help you succeed. For more information, visit our coaching page or email info@nextupsolutions.com.

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