2 words, Agile and Coaching, seem to be the greatest buzz words after brain and neuro from last 5 years or so. No one would have heard it more frequently now than ever before. And the way things are progressing, I see them staying in the top buzz words list for next many decades.

Let’s understand these words individually first and then see how they make sense together. More importantly let’s understand “WHY” they make sense “together”.

First let’s look at Agile. What is agile? No, not XP, SCRUM, KANBAN etc… Question is “what is agile?” No, agile is not agile manifesto. Agile is not all the different methodologies or techniques. Agile is also not X Roles + X Ceremonies or time boxes + X artifacts. So what is agile?

The free dictionary defines agile as “characterized by quickness, lightness, and ease of movement”;

Another definition from Webster says “marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace”;

The way I like to put it is “Quickly responding to change defines agility”;

In software development context, how quickly, lightly, easily, readily, gracefully we develop software define agility. If I add my definition to the sentence above then it would be: how quickly, lightly, easily, readily, gracefully we respond to change while developing software defines agility. Notice the word “respond” and not “react”.

Ok. So that’s agile. What is coaching? The term “Coach” literally comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word for a carriage, which is something that takes you from where you are now to where you want to be. “Coaching” is:

  • “The art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another.”1
  • “Helping you do your best.”2
  • “Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.”3
  • “Coaching closes the gap between thinking about doing and doing”: Curly Martin.4
  • “Coaching is about performing at your best through the individual and private assistance of someone who will challenge, stimulate and guide you to keep growing”.5
  • Coaching will assist a client in defining what they want, removing obstacles, setting goals taking into account values and purpose, striving for balance and fulfillment.

In a nutshell: “Coaching” is a vehicle to transport a client from where he is now in his life to where he wants to be.

Ok. So we have learnt what agile is and what coaching is individually. What do they mean together? What is Agile Coaching? Or rather in correct English, what is “Coaching Agile”? Note: we are not talking about “training” agile. Training is teaching people to do what they don’t know how to do. Whereas coaching is for people who are performing normally and want to do better.

In the context of agile teams, coaching takes on the dual flavor of coaching and mentoring. Yes, you are coaching to help someone reach for the next goal in their life, just as a professional work/life coach does. You are also sharing your agile experiences and ideas as you mentor them, guiding them to use agile well. In this way, coaching and mentoring are entwined for the sake of developing talented agilists so that more and better business results arise through agile.

The context of agile makes you a mentor; the focus on team performance makes you a coach.

Note: A serious point of ethics for professional coaches holds that the coachee’s agenda must be the single guiding light of the coaching relationship. The coach exists solely for the coachee, and not the other way round. Coachee’s agenda alone cannot rule completely because coach must also mix in their agenda: to influence the coachee to use agile well. Hence Agile Coach is not a pure coach!!! He / She is more of coach – like!!!

Now the last part; WHY? Why they make so much sense together? Why coaching agile teams is required?

  • Getting good results with Agile is relatively easy: form a cross-functional team, prioritize backlog items, create shippable product each iteration. Basically, follow the process and your team is likely to deliver value. No surprise here.
  • Getting truly great results, especially consistently, is a bit more rare. Great results require a great team. And great teams rarely just happen. A team aspiring towards greatness often needs a coach: trained, experienced, competent in his / her craft.
  • Agile is a change in mindset. Mindsets do not change overnight. Mindsets do not change after 2 or 3 days CSM or any other agile training. Even if they do, they have little or no direction from there.
  • If the client, team, scrum master and management are new to agile, they invariably need a coach to tell them what “good agile” is. It cannot be resolved by 2 or 3 days of training. They need a coach and a mentor by their side, on the project, with them on the floor till they reach where they had aimed to reach!!!
  • As a way of working, agile seems full of opposites: simple yet challenging, lightweight yet mighty, commonsensical yet subtle, easily accessible yet deep.
  • To coach teams to do agile well, you need not add new artifacts, events, or roles to the agile framework you have chosen. Instead, coach finds things that help express the challenging, mighty, subtle, and deep aspects of each element already present in the framework.
  • Agile itself is sufficient; coaching deepens it.
  • Agile is easy to get going yet hard to do well.

Lastly, think about this. Team starts taking their own decisions. They do their own planning. They organize themselves. They estimate and make commitment themselves. Managers become Scrum Master by which they facilitate the team. So what does management do when almost they were doing is now done by team themselves?

Scrum Master and Management, with no work left with them, naturally progresses towards people management aspects like facilitating, mentoring and coaching!! But weren’t they supposed to do just that all this long? Uuummmm… You tell me 😉

1 Effective coaching: Myles Downey

2 Fish sticks, Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul, John Christensen

3 Coaching for performance: John Whitmore

4 The life coaching handbook: Curly Martin

5 Gerard Donovan, Founder and CEO of Noble Manhattan Coaching

6 Coaching Agile Team by Lyssa Adkins

2 thoughts on “Coaching Agile Teams

  1. Hi Tushar,

    Some even say that Agile coaching is snake oil… I do remember I have published something on this topic before (well, you can search here if you want).

    In any case, I think that your post is great and I would really like to republish it on PM Hut.

  2. This is quite an interesting look at Agile without counting Scrum and other methodologies first. This article makes a lot of interesting points that can be quite useful for people in the field of Agile like Scrum Masters. Thanks for sharing this!

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