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What is "Agile Coaching"?

by Ben Linders on Dec 14, 2012 |

 Recently, a discussion on “agile coaching” was triggered by the editorial article “is agile coaching becoming a commodity profession?”, published on agiledevelopment.org:

Oh I remember ever so fondly when Agile Coaching jobs were filled with people who actually knew how to coach teams. And even when they did not learn anything, at least they were actually interested in learning. (…) Nowadays the entrance criteria to become an Agile Coach is whether or not you can facilitate a retrospective few different ways and are able to find your way around some Agile tracking tool... Oh yes, if you can pretend to listen while nodding your head every so often and saying "I hear you. What do YOU think you should do now?" then that is also a bonus.

The article explains that problems with “agile coaching” have to do with both the agile experts, and with the companies that require their services:

Right now we are at the convergence of two perfect storms: on the one hand we have an army of a bogus Agile experts, and on the other side we have an equally vast army of companies who could not spot a knowledgeable Agile tech if their life depended on it.

Rachel Davies, one of the authors of the book “Agile Coaching” explains in “agile coach: understanding the role” what an agile coach does:

In a nutshell, an agile coach helps teams grow strong in applying Agile practice to their work. It takes time to adopt these changes so you can't do this effectively as a "seagull consultant" or trainer who swoops in to deliver words of wisdom and then makes a sharp exit. You need to spend time with a team to help them to become more aware of their workflow and how to collaborate effectively.

Being a coach is also different because it's a transitory role not tied into project duration. Your goal is for the team to become self-coaching and adept in applying agile then you move on. That doesn't limit agile coaches to introducing agile into organizations and establishing new agile teams. The majority of the teams that I coach are already applying agile techniques and seek coaching because they want to boost their performance and proficiency in agile software development.

In the InfoQ interview “Lyssa Adkins on agile Coaching” the author of the book “Coaching Agile Teams”, Lyssa Adkins, gives her view on “Agile Coaching”:

Agile coaching is really important because we have a bunch of crappy Agile happening in the world right now. Even when it’s happening fairly well, I just know that pumping up mediocre results faster was not really the main intention behind this way of working.

I think coaches are an integral part to helping teams get to astonishing results because it’s all in the interactions of human beings where that happens. There is no piece of it in the Agile framework that’s going to help you with that. Having Agile framework there and working well, it’s certainly going to provide the structure and the container within which that can happen, the boundaries. But there are so much more to do within those boundaries, so many more things to bring to the team, so many more ideas and things from different disciplines - things from conflict management and facilitation and teaching and mentoring and professional coaching and a few more.

Dave Nicolette describes in “the commoditization of agile” that there is a mismatch between the results that agile coaches would like to reach with their customers, and what their customers expect from “agile coaching”:

Because of this mis-match between self-perception and the reality of the market, agile practitioners are often frustrated that they are unable to gain very much traction with clients to effect positive organizational change. The reason is that customers are only looking for commodity "coaches" to show their teams how to "do iterations" and so forth. They aren’t actually looking for genuine value. That is also the reason for the emphasis on certification and accreditation. Commodity services have to be standardized. By definition, things that are certified or accredited conform to a standard. Innovation stops cold.

Peter Saddington gives his view on what “agile coaching” is, in “getting paid as an agile coach”:

Anyone can ‘consult.’ It takes more out of you to coach, and coach well. For me, I coach because I believe it’s a calling. I coach because I seriously love helping people reach their potential. I love seeing organizations flourish, not because they deliver more product faster (with quality)… but because I see the culture change to a more positive and productive environment.

What do you think “agile coaching” is?

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Snake Oil Merchants by James Scrimshire

I agree with Ben's comments, way to many snake oil merchants in the industry right now. Causing more harm than good.
Here's my take on coaching, from the view of the scrum master

Study on "The Agile Coach" by Mike Leber

I currently conduct a study on this topic
blog.coachcamp.org/2012/09/study-on-the-agile-c...

Though already having quite a bunch of people, helping me out with supporting my interviews, still interested to see additional insights.

thx,
Mike

It's mostly a scam by Post Agilist

While their may be 1 out or 1000 coaches who are any good, for the most part, it is a calling for people who no longer have the coding, managerial, or architectural skills to do anything, and want to pad their retirement before they retire.

Sorry to call a spade out for what it is, but all these doddering old greybeards yammering on about empowerment and 60's radicalism have nothing to contribute to software engineering.

At best, they are cheerleaders. Calling them coaches is nonsensical.

Architects and great developers will bring more tangible benefits than a cheerleader cheerleading the inept.

Companies should throw out the customers and use the money to hire experienced architects who can actually help them streamline their processes and codebase which will increase their return on every dollar spent.

You can read more of my views on where to go beyond agile at my website postagilist.wordpress.com

PA

Re: It's mostly a scam by Post Agilist

Err throw out the Coaches rather.... typo :)

Re: Study on The Agile Coach by Ben Linders

Mike, are there already results or conclusions that you can share from your study on "The Agile Coach"?

Our readers would be interested to get insights in what the attendants of the study think that "Agile Coaching" is, what agile coaches do, and why they do it?

Know what to look for in an Agile Coach by Josh Woodcock

I agree completely. I think a lot of the poor coaching comes from managers who don't know what to look for in a coach because they often haven't worked with one before. I believe you can break down the roles of an agile coach this way: Coach, Mentor, Consultant. In addition the coach role can be further broken down into Team Coach, Management Coach, and Individual Coach. I go into more detail with an illustration here: beagile.biz/agile-coaching-trinity/. The point is that if you hire a coach you need to be able to listen for experience in all of these areas.

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