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Agile Training and Coaching for Managers

by Ben Linders on Jun 19, 2014 |

Several authors discussed the importance of training for the success of agile adoption. Teams usually receive training when organizations are adopting agile. The question is how much and what kind of training and coaching is needed for the managers to make an agile transformation succeed.

The article the agile thermocline by James Buchanan discusses the gap between the higher levels in organizations that are driving the work and teams doing the work. He describes how agile can cause this gap to become larger. James mentions that often only teams are trained when organizations adopt agile:

Due to this gap in understanding how to empower Agile within their company, Agile is brought in as process training alone. This process will drive leadership change at the team level, where people have to work with it everyday, but the further you get from the team, the less you understand intuitively how Agile environments work. In other words, those doing the Agile process, who are in the thick of the adoption, are quickly guided into new ways of thinking and leading. The executive leaders, however, whom often may not be as close to the process, may not receive the same level of exposure and training due to time pressures and the nature of their work.

A change in leadership is needed for agile adoption, which has to start at the top of the organization by training and coaching executives as James states:

Leaders must be given the support they need to grow into a new model of leadership that drives their organization more effectively than older models would.  Executive-level coaching on Agile leadership and culture is a good way to provide the foundation and awareness needed for a successful rollout and adoption of Agile. Coaching performs two functions: It will help you assess the level of support for cultural changes and the actual fit for Agile in the organization from the leaders who drive the organization.

In the blog post who really needs agile training? John Krewson explains why managers need to be trained when organizations adopt agile:

We can provide Agile training to our teams until they are experts. But if we can’t provide their managers the skills they need to steer them within the Agile principles, what value is the training? Teams are being trained to self-organize, but we expect managers to just fit in to that model. Teams are being trained to favor face-to-face conversations, but managers are still holding on to the chain of command. (…) If we expect Agile training efforts to pay off, we have to train the managers how to manage Agile teams.

John states what training for managers should be aiming at:

Agile managers should be trained to back off, let their teams make mistakes, and give them the freedom to improve. It’s the only way to make the team training effective.

Inbar Oren wrote the blog post train everybody…else – a rant on manager’s involvement in agile transformations in which he explain why training managers is agile is important in agile adoption: 

(…) most of the failures I’ve had (and I think others have too) in implementing Agile, especially in large organizations, is senior managers (directors/VPs and even higher) who don’t understand Agile well enough and didn’t have the time to really learn it. Yes, they had decided on the move to Agile, but without really understanding what it means to be Agile and how THEY should change as a result, and with focus on expected results that were either not realistic or simply wrong.

I think if we had more VPs who were trained in Agile, understood Agile and were leading the change and afterward their group in an Agile way we would see a much higher rate of success. Can a VP of R&D spare 3 days? A few years ago we thought they couldn’t spare 2 for a management workshop but have since learned better  I think that they can’t afford not to (…)

Chris Matts describes how he is helping a client to become sustainable agile in his blog post I am an agile coach. I am an organisational dysfunction:

Some of the more experienced coaches had suggested I should work for the team doing what was right, rather than work for management. It felt right because management did not have a deep understanding of agile but I had a stronger feeling that I should be aligned with management who represented the goals of the organisation. The management skills matrix helped me realise that I should not work with the team at all. Instead I should work coaching the leadership of the organisation so that THE LEADERS COULD COACH THE TEAMS.

He gives advice on how much training managers should receive, based upon a skill matrix that he is using with the client’s managers:

But training every manager in every skill is impossible. Some managers just do not want to know about the intricate details of Agile. Thats fine, training every manager in every skill is the wrong goal. The goals is to ensure that each skill can be coached by at least 3 managers.

Finally Chris answers the question on who should go agile first, teams or management:

GIVEN that management want Agile

WHEN they hire a coach

THEN the coach should start with management.

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