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Why Would I Need an Agile Coach?

Agile frameworks are simple, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Maybe you’re struggling with the big questions of Agile transformation like, “What methods should we use?” or “How do get started?” Or maybe your teams have started but it doesn’t seem to be doing much for them, or for your enterprise. That’s where an Agile […]

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January 02, 2021

Agile frameworks are simple, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Maybe you’re struggling with the big questions of Agile transformation like, “What methods should we use?” or “How do get started?” Or maybe your teams have started but it doesn’t seem to be doing much for them, or for your enterprise. That’s where an Agile coach comes in. Great Agile coaches help organizations in lots of ways. Here are just a few:

Agile Coaches Can Help Plan Your Agile Evolution

For complex organizations interested in starting a transition to enterprise Agility, engaging experienced coaches upfront can help you plot a course that gives you the highest probability of early success and gives you the best use of scarce time and budgets. Great coaches can help you match teaming and scaling approaches to specific lines of business, recommend a feasible startup path, and help you zero in on the most important cultural changes you might need to support Agile teams. Doing that requires a depth of experience embodying Agility on teams and shaping enterprise patterns to leverage the value proposition of frameworks like Scrum and Kanban.

Agile Coaches Can Help Teams Get Started with a Specific Method

New Agile teams can take time to find a level of stable value delivery and continual self-improvement. Even if each team member comes from prior high performing Agile teams, there is always a period of negotiating the specific mechanics of self-organization within a new group. For example, it’s common for a new Scrum team to take five to seven sprints to go through the ‘forming’ and ‘storming’ phases before they reach a ‘norming’ level of performance. An experienced Agile Coach can accelerate that process by matching teaming and training exercises to help a team more quickly reach a common understanding of group dynamics like relative estimating, and backlog refinement. And Agile coaches can be especially helpful in fostering an environment of blameless introspection and experimental adaptation that teams need to eventually reach a level of high performance.

Agile Coaches Can Help Teams Learn to Improve Themselves

Sometimes teams get stuck. Maybe they had some early success adopting a particular Agile framework, but then things seemed to stall and now the team is no longer advancing but still going through the motions. Maybe the particular framework never seemed to ‘take’ in the first place. Whatever the issue, a great Agile coach can help a team understand the how’s and why’s of the situation and help them find their way to patterns that better serve the goals of the group and their organization. The coach will do so in a manner that leaves the team owning their growth as they move forward instead of becoming dependent on a consultant.

Agile Coaches Can Help Teams Improve Their Organizations

Organizational processes accrue over time, typically as a reaction to prior failure. The resulting bureaucracies and control patterns can make it impossible to institute the team level behaviors like self-organization or empirical planning that are foundational to Agile approaches like Scrum. Capable Agile coaches draw on their wealth of experience to help teams learn to advocate ‘out’ and ‘up’ within their institutions to create the environments that will allow them to flourish.

Agile Coaches Can Help Leaders Understand How to Support Agility

The hardest part of an Agile transformation can sometimes be reshaping what leadership means in your organization. A team may understand and commit to a pattern like Scrum, but then be hamstrung by a manager whose view of leadership is rooted in ‘command-and-control’ behavior instead of service and clarity. Or institutional systems may be getting in the way, as when the organizations accidentally incentivize output over outcome and end up with teams that good at being busy but lousy at delivering business value. Experienced Agile coaches have the skills and know-how to coach leaders to adopt the service and growth mindsets needed to get the most value, and they can recommend evolutions of enterprise behaviors to support real Agile adoption in a way that focuses on objective value delivery and continual learning.

How Can You Find a Great Agile Coach?

Unfortunately, it’s much easier to call yourself an Agile coach than it is to actually be one. Inadvertently hiring the wrong coach can, at best, waste your time and money. At worst it sink your entire Agile transformation. So how do you find a good one?

Look for Experience

Great Agile coaches have done this before in multiple contexts. They’ve been on Agile teams, they’ve coached teams, they’ve worked at scale, and they’ve coached enterprises. You need someone who’s seen things work – and not work – in a variety of circumstances so that they can provide context and nuance to the advice they’d give. Without that rich history you’re unlikely to get answers that go beyond a pamphlet level understanding of a particular approach.

Look for Agnosticism

Agility is really a way of working and organizing; it’s not any one particular method, approach, or framework. Great Agile coaches know that different methods are rooted in different assumptions about teams, planning, and organizations, and we may need a collage of techniques across an enterprise in order to meet their specific needs. A good coach can help an institution understand how to behave in ways that allow for localized variation and flexibility without sacrificing your overarching vision. Without that commitment to agnosticism, you’re likely to wind up with ‘coaching’ that’s really only about auditing and compliance.

Look for Partnership

A great Agile coach partners with you to serve your agenda, not their own. It’s not about making your organization fit a particular mold or model; instead they should be collaborating with you to define a path that puts your organization and teams toward value delivery. And that improvement should be conducted in a way that becomes self-sustainable so that you can own and maintain that growth after the coach moves on to their next engagement. Without that partnership mindset you’re likely to end up with a consultant rather than a coach, the type who has no interest in a future version of your organization that doesn’t involve you continuing to pay them.

NextUp Solution Can Help!

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, contact info@nextupsolutions.com or visit nextupsolutions.com/coaching.

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