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Agile Coaches Attend First AgileCoachCamp

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An Agile Coach is someone who helps a team, or an entire organization, adopt and improve their agile practices. AgileCoachCamp, held this spring in Ann Arbor Michigan, was the first ever conference specifically for agile coaches. The participants, who came from as far away as India, Sweden, and Ukraine, self-organized to put on more than 60 sessions during the open space conference.

Some sessions focused on coaching skills such as listening and feedback. Others examined agile topics such as applying agile to a distributed team, or balancing process and engineering during an agile transition. There was even a session on using games to teach agile principles and practices.

In a session named "What Makes Agile Teams Succeed (or Fail)?" participants built a list of the key differentiators between the successful and unsuccessful teams that they had worked on. The result was a ranked list of those things that make the biggest difference. While the most important item, "Have motivated people" may be no surprise, the second item "Management by carefully chosen objectives and metrics" i s perhaps more interesting. An example shared was of a department manger who chose 'stories completed per week' as his primary metric. He felt that this measured actual progress, while having the beneficial side effect of encouraging smaller story size.

A session named "Transition Patterns" examined best practices for coaches when helping an organization transition to agile development. The group felt that teaching practices is an effective place to start, but that it is imperative that people come to understand the underlying principles if a transition is to fully succeed. It was strongly suggested that an agile transition team be formed to be the "eyes, ears, and muscles" of the transition. The idea was put forth that participants in the transition could be roughly grouped into 3 categories, and that each category would need a different type of coaching. The categories are:

  • Threatened
  • Willing, but in need of help
  • Motivated

Deborah Hartmann, who wrote this article on Powerful Questions, hosted a session on the topic. The group examined a variety of questions from the perspective of how powerful could they be and how likely would they be to open or close people to possibilities. The group quickly agreed that open-ended questions such as "What do you want to drink?" are more powerful than closed-ended questions such as "Do you want a cup of coffee?" Questions that begin with "Why..." were found to often have a blaming component, which can lead people to become defensive. Finally the group tried a coaching exercise in which a set of questions was the only tool used. Some of the questions included:

  • What does that cost you?
  • What do you need to know?
  • How do you know?
  • What do you care about?
  • What is another way?
  • What do you need to be?

Participants in Agile Coach Camp did not have to pay a registration fee. Instead, each was required to write a position paper, answering the following questions:

  • What's your experience coaching teams toward being Agile?
  • What do you plan to learn /explore at this conference?
  • How do you plan to contribute?

A total of 74 position papers were submitted and can be found on the Agile Coach Camp wiki.

The conference was able to avoid handling money by matching sponsors directly with needs. Conference organizers Deborah Hartmann and Naresh Jain posted a list of things that needed to be paid for or provided, and sponsors signed up to provide these items. For example, Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson covered the cost of the venue.

The conference wiki includes the posted session notes, as well as a photo gallery and the notes from the conference retrospective.

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