The Coaching Perspective

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Why Agile Coaching?

Agile teams are usually able to make local improvements to their performance, often with the assistance of a Scrum Master. Unfortunately, many Scrum Masters focus solely on their teams to the detriment of improvements to the ecosystem within which the teams work.

As we scale beyond a single independent team, we see a non-linear change (increase or decrease) in value delivered due to waste and impedance from many factors including:

  • Product structure
  • Team structure
  • Inter-team interaction
  • Dependent service interaction, e.g. procurement, People Operations, finance, governance ...
  • Policies and process
  • Engineering practices
  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Coordination overhead increase

Reducing this impedance takes leadership throughout the organisation, adopting a new and different leadership mindset and behaviours. Using leadership strategies and tactics that contributed to the issues is unlikely to offer a fresh outcome.

Agile Coaches or Scrum Masters - from our perspective they are the same -  can offer the vital fresh and politically neutral perspective to support leadership on this journey. Scrum Masters contribute valuable situational context from the teams’ perspectives and Agile coaches assist leaders to constructively incorporate these views into the evolution of the organisation.  

In a different application field, executive teams commonly use the help of business coaches and facilitators to support their work. These external figures challenge ideas by asking useful questions that promote reflection processes.

Having an external coach perspective to support external to a group working on a specific task is quite common. The Agile movement identified that human dynamics are crucial in successful teamwork and introduced professional roles dedicated to coaching teams.

Extreme Programming, for example, introduces the role of the XP Coach. The role is mainly a technical mentor, i.e., with little focus on human dynamics, and this person is also actively working in delivering products. Nonetheless it is a recognition that accompanying the developers is an important activity.

Scrum, instead, defines the Scrum Master as a coaching accountability providing services to the Developers, the Product Owner and the Organisation [ref. Scrum Guide].

When we talk about Agile Coaching, we actually refer to a set of activities that are all part of the job:

  • Training
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching
  • Facilitating
  • ...

are just the most common aspects of the role.

We note that, in practice, different coaches interpret their role differently: some focus very much on the technical aspects, some focus on team collaboration, some on the organisational aspects of agility, some on the personal improvement of the individual team members. We find it highly problematic to have "agile coaches" who focus only on some narrow aspects of the role, and we invite the community to embrace all facets and learn the flexibility of "dancing" with all of them, using the available options both strategically and tactically in the interest of Teams and Organisations!

Why an Agile Coaching Practice?

Coaching is an important aspect of an agile organisation and at scale everything becomes more complicated: many Teams are supposed to collaborate, there are more complex organisational and management structures to work with and much more accidental complexity to tackle and remove. So, Agile Coaching becomes more challenging. There is a need to involve more people and ensure that improvement actions are adopted with a global view rather than local optimisations.

As such, it is useful to have all the coaches available, working together with the leadership to drive the change: the Agile Coaching Practice.

Improvement happens both at the Team level and at the Organisational level. So, while there is a certain amount of work each coach should do with individual Teams, they should organise themselves to act as a group for all changes involving a part or the whole organisation.

What should we expect from it?

The overall goal of an Agile Coaching Practice is to accompany an organisation through change, helping the company become more and more agile over time. They do that by providing suggestions, asking significant and useful questions, facilitating, … In summary, they offer all the services that a single Agile Coach provides to a Team.

On top of that, they ensure all the various change initiatives are connected, helping leadership and the Product Owners work as a system.