What exactly does an Agile Coach do?

There are many different flavors of coaching and in a team of coaches, you will most likely find a variety of backgrounds. Most coaches I have worked with have many years of experience in IT, as a software developer, architect, team lead, product owner, and scrum master. The best agile coaches I have worked with have an AND between all those roles. It doesn’t mean it is an absolute requirement, but I think it would be easier to know what to look for if you have that background and experience.

Not only is it about knowing what to look for, but it is also about knowing what to do about the issues, how to solve them. Being able to suggest different tools, techniques, and/or practices and how to use them, and how they can help to solve the problem.

The great thing about a team of coaches is that we can collaborate, support each other, and build on each other’s strengths. Which is also why there is no absolute about which background an Agile coach needs to have. It all depends on the organization and the type of teams and which roles you want to coach and what you want to achieve.

I normally start new assignments with a Coaching Agreement, which is not a formal agreement, but I use it as a conversation tool to get clarity for both coach and coachee on what should be the focus of the coaching and what their expectations are. Also, I like to clarify the different types of coaching I can do. For example 1:1 coaching, team coaching, and organizational/systemic coaching.

Active Listening is key in all interactions with any team I join, and I use it more and more. I prefer to work in `silent mode` meaning I mostly observe in team meetings and I create a “backlog of improvements“, ideas, suggestions which I then walk through with key coachees. I talk through them and explain my thinking around these and the coachees themselves pick up the items and work on the ones that they find important and prioritize. If they request my assistance I will help them with ideas on how to do things or support them in the improvement they are making whichever way they need.

Backlog of improvements

Another technique I have found valuable to use when starting to work with new teams is creating a visualization of the flow of work, similar to a Value Stream Map with the focus on the key question; ” What are the process steps that work must go through to be 100% complete? ” I find this an extremely valuable place to start, and I am consistently surprised by the effect this has on the team as they don`t see this picture until it is mapped out.

After the value stream is mapped out, the next I focus on is to identify the bottlenecks in the system. The visualization itself is often enough to see where these are. I also think the value stream is useful to get attention to 100% complete work and where it all starts, from the very beginning, Combined with this I like to create a baseline of measurements, I only focus on Lead Time and from here I work on multiple layers to ensure we have quality in that number. I contribute in increasing the quality by working these and several other areas;

  • Defining types of work,
  • Defining the work process,
  • Defining the level of quality, for example by agreeing on a definition of done.
  • Prioritisation mechanisms
  • Visualize stakeholders
  • Limit work in progress

There are several other things I do as an Agile Coach, but these are the most common techniques I use when I start a coaching engagement and gives you a high level view of how a Agile Coach might work.

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