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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Agile Coaches on the ICAgile Expert Certification

Agile Coaches on the ICAgile Expert Certification


1. Good day, folks. This is Shane Hastie. We're here at Agile 2015, and we're talking with a group of ICAgile expert coaches. Gentlemen, good morning. Josh, Bill, and Manjit, we know each other. Would you mind very briefly introducing yourself to the audience? Josh, can I start with you?

Josh: Sure. My name is Josh Seckel. I work at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. That's sufficient.

Shane: Cool. Bill

Bill: Very good. I'm AgileBill Krebs, and I like distributed teams. I do coaching and training.

Shane: Manjit.

Manjit: I am Manjit Singh. I have an Agile consulting business and do Agile coaching, training and consulting.


2. We're here because you're all three “ICAgile Certified Experts” in facilitation and coaching. What does that mean? What, in your opinion, and let's take it one at a time, Josh, what does it mean to be a Certified Expert in coaching?

Josh: To me it means that I've done it and shown that I can actually do it. It isn’t, oh, yeah, I went and took a class and now I have a certification. I've proven and shown to people that respect them and believe in that I can actually perform these tasks and execute well as an Agile coach and facilitator.

Shane: Bill.

Bill: To me it means I'm still learning. The word that you used that I like is the word "and" because you mentioned coaching and facilitation. And I think the biggest thing I learned is when to switch stances, how you purposefully choose whether you're mentoring, you're teaching, you're coaching, you're facilitating.

Shane: Great. Manjit?

Manjit: So to me personally it means that my peers feel that I have the competency and the experience as a practitioner, that I'm qualified to then receive this expert certification through ICAgile. So the fact that this is achieved by going through a rigorous process of peer interview and assessment to ensure that you have and can demonstrate certain capabilities is important.

Shane: Okay, so this is not passing an exam.

Manjit: No, it's not passing an exam. It's much more. It's more rigorous, you have to demonstrate your capabilities, you have to provide evidence through videos and other materials of you actually coaching and facilitating and training and mentoring which is assessed by a panel of existing experts and only based on their assessment that you get a certification.

Shane: That sounds like a pretty high bar.

Josh:Josh: Yes.

Shane: Tell us a bit about the experience.

Josh: So, I'm trying to think of how many months, maybe even close to a year, that I spent working to create and to eventually get to interview in front of the panel, to create a videotape of yourself facilitating a session. And then not only that; you have to watch yourself which is harder than actually doing the videotaping, in my opinion, because then you're like, "Oh, I did this wrong and I did this wrong. I did this okay." But then editing that down or creating a set that, okay, this is what we'll show to the panel and then interviewing in that panel process, doing a coaching session, doing a mentoring session live as you're there with the panel and having them critique and say, "Yes, this was good," "This was not as good. And based on our questions of you or viewing of your video, your sessions that you've demonstrated here live." Then you go offline and they all discuss it for a little bit which is a very nerve-wracking half hour or so, and then come back and they say either "Yes, you've passed" or "We want you to continue to work on these kinds of things."

Shane: So, it's not a guaranteed pass?

Josh: No.

Bill: Well, yeah, I can add to that.

Josh: Oh, go ahead, please.

Bill: Well, that’s the fun part, yeah. So I've had tests from other brands and other schools and that's fine, but I was looking for this demonstration of competency. So I had to coach live. Oh, my gosh! I had to coach live in front of the thought leaders and people who wrote the books on how to coach. I wanted something challenging because we kind of know the basics. Where do I travel on the roadmap to go further? And like a good test-driven development team, fail first. So the first time I did it I failed. So the first time I did it I failed, and I was happy about that because I was one of the early ones -- I think it was the first one -- and I wanted to see what is it like to fail? Where is the bar? So personally, surprisingly, I found I grew a lot from that failure and learning, okay, where is the delta? Where do I need to go from there?

So I love that process in that it was balanced in terms of this challenge.

Manjit: I had a similar experience. It took me about six months to prepare. I had recorded myself several hours of teaching, coaching, training, facilitation, and then had a tough time picking the right three to five-minute video excerpts from 12 to 15 hours of recording that I had. And then very anxious because I knew the three individuals on my panel, I respected them highly. I have worked with them, I knew of them, and I know it was not going to an easy process. So I was extremely, extremely nervous. And as Bill mentioned, doing the live coaching or the live mentoring, during that two-hour period within a span of like 15 to 20 minutes to demonstrate your competency is a lot of pressure. So it’s not an easy feat to accomplish.

Josh: Can I add briefly to that for just a second? Those live coaching and mentoring is not some made-up scenario. I’ve taken lots of test where here we’re going to give you this scenario. Now, tell me how you would deal with it. It’s one of the facilitator or someone else who is on the call who has a real problem that you’re actually coaching them or mentoring them with. It’s not something that is, oh, yes, we’re writing out the scenario and here’s the right answers. You got to actually feel and figure out what is right here not just a pre-scripted kind of a thing. And that was both nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time.


3. In terms of preparation, I know that there is a learning pathway. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Josh: Sure. So, there are several courses and it's really that there is a set of learning objectives that happen to be met by a couple of courses. I did them relatively early so as separate courses. You can also meet them as stepping stones, small. There's also boot camps that will take you through the entire thing in about a week for learning those learning objectives which is the classroom time that you need to make sure that you have the knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can execute. So then there is the time of actually being a coach and actually executing so that you can give your references. You have to give multiple references at different places that you've coached and developing the experience and the skills to actually do those live coaching and live mentoring sessions.

So it is definitely a journey and a path and it's not that I need to do all of it at once. I mean I can but it is definitely a longer term learning opportunity. It shouldn’t be, and I don’t think it has been for any of us, it's not an end to this path to become an expert. It's a stepping stone to continuation of that learning and to getting better and to continuing to engage in this group to know what else to do.

Bill: I second that because it's the small steps and we teach in our Lean classes about small pieces flow faster and better. Maybe you want part of this track. You need a little test? You need a little coaching? You can mix it how you want. So they have the learning objectives which are small and then the themes. You start with fundamentals and then you show intent to learn and then you show competency at the expert level. And you can have two major beefy courses per track. So I love the roadmap because it lets me choose what's right for the skills and disciplines I need in my career.

Manjit: So all I'm going to add is that for me personally it was a 3-year long journey and that doesn't mean that the journey has ended but it started with the fundamentals and going through facilitation, coaching Agile teams. And then being a practitioner for over two years before I could even think about considering applying for the Agile Expert. That clearly demonstrates that this is a journey on which you're learning and increasing the competency before you can actually take the next step towards the next stage of that track.

Shane: There's something fairly interesting about how you retain your certification at the expert level. Tell us a bit about that.

Manjit: Yeah, absolutely. That was the other thing that I found very refreshing is that once you get the certification, the expert certification, there is not an annual renewal fee but there is an expectation of contributing back to the body of knowledge and the work that you want hours to review learning objectives or new plans or even serve on a panel for the future individual who's applying for the expert certification. That entire process ensures that you are deeply immersed in learning and organically, exchanging ideas and growing your understanding of Agile as you spend time with other peers.

Bill: Yeah, I love that. For me that was actually half the learning value which was a huge surprise to me. I mean I like the community thing and I was anxious to help out because I like the concept, but I also served on the panel to review other gate reviews, other Agile coaches. I found I learned a huge amount from that process and that was a completely unexpected bonus, the amount of learning I had in those moments.

Shane: Great. Josh, any thought?

Josh: What they said.


4. So beyond the certification, what does this meant -- and perhaps you break this down into different levels: to you, to the organization which you belong to and to your clients or dare we call them victims?

Josh: So I guess I'll start because I'm the odd duck out here in some ways. I'm not a professional coach right now. I work as a federal employee, but my organization at Citizenship and Immigration is going through an Agile transformation. I am a not insignificant part of helping to lead that. Part of doing that is I needed the skills so it's not about the role of coach. It's about being able to coach. And I needed the skill set and I wanted to be able to demonstrate that skill set that I actually had it. But the skill set that comes with coaching and being able to facilitate and being able to help others figure out how to get to the next level, how to do things. So I'm working in a very different spot in many ways but it definitely has proven valuable and I've used a lot of the things that I've learned and that I continue to learn.

Bill: Well, that's brilliant. I love your thoughts on that. And also what I find most valuable for me is when I design courses, I can bring some of my own special sauce. I like some other branches and other things to teach because they give you more structure. But in this one, they give you the roadmap and the learning objectives, some of that is even creative commons, but you can teach it your way. And I think that helps me set myself apart as an instructional designer and trainer.

Manjit: I have found that getting the ICAgile certifications did set me apart for the simple reason that all the certifications are based on the premise that you have to demonstrate craftsmanship and performing a discipline. The learning objectives are clearly spelled out and that helps one see exactly the various pieces of knowledge that we're acquiring as we go through those different tracks in the journey. And the other thing that sets me apart with the certification is that it shows to my client that I am basically extremely genuine in my pursuit of getting better, in learning and bringing that what I learned to my clients and help them directly in their efforts. That makes a huge difference compared to when they're talking to somebody else who may not have a similar level of certification.


5. Coming back to the certification pathway and the assessment and so forth, how do you know what to prepare for? You mentioned the learning objectives. Is there more to it than that?

Josh: Yes. They don’t just let you float and guess. There are actually two pieces to it. One is they provide a nice spreadsheet and having been on panels, the panel uses that spreadsheet to mark on each of the different areas that you need to show competency beginning, good and expert kind of a path across them with some very well defined, “if you show these kinds of things, then you are here”. But in addition to that, there's mentoring. Before you get there, I worked with Shannon Ewan in terms of helping me to prepare and to think about what are the things that I need to do? And she's been heavily involved with this from the beginning. Now I'm actually mentoring a couple of coaches who are getting ready to do their ICAgile expert.

So that form of giving back as well but helping -- so we help people to prepare so that they are more ready or as ready as they can be before they get there so that they know what to expect and what's coming.

Bill: Absolutely. Yes. And just I like the fact that you point out the progression of difficulty in the rubric. So in that spreadsheet, beginning, maturing, competent and expert, I found that quite helpful because that answered the question I had and the question I had is “how do I know that I'm a coach?” I think I am but how do I really know? And you all have special techniques that make you unique in how you coach, but I want to know what's kind of the baseline from the people that teach coaches all day for a living. So I love that structure for that program.

Manjit: The only thing I would add is that rubric is extremely helpful and then the other big barrier that you get is at the end of it you get an actual assessment so you know how you failed when they assessed you based on that rubric, which is the same thing that you are looking at and the same thing that the panelists are looking at. That provides much greater feedback that allows you to focus on where do you want to grow, where you may be lacking in expertise or understanding. That's extremely helpful.

Bill: Yeah, it's not mechanical either.

Manjit: Yeah, it's not mechanical either, absolutely not. There are aspects that I was quite confident and then learned there were areas that I needed to further improve on. There can be lots of surprises once you get it done.

Shane: It sounds like it's a pretty rigorous but very transparent process.

Manjit: Absolutely, extremely transparent.

Josh: In transparency, this is the only -- okay, other than a computer-based test that I got immediate feedback – it's the only thing that I've done where it was, okay, I've done an interview. I mean even jobs don’t happen this fast. I've done an interview and now go away for 20 minutes while they talk about it, then they call me back and they give me immediate feedback. Talk about short feedback cycles, this was a short feedback cycle. Very transparent that way.

Shane: Excellent. Well, gentlemen, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today. We really appreciate it and enjoy the rest of the conference.

Bill: Thank you very much.

Josh: Thank you.

Bill: I appreciate it.

Sep 13, 2015