What is Agile coaching?
Welcome to part 13 in our Agile coach interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of agile coaches and scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
This is an interesting, yet common question posed by interviewers and in my experience, they have a preconceived idea of what an agile coach and want you to tell them what they think is true.
One of the problems with Agile coaching, as both a role and an industry/career segment, is that it isn’t well defined.
What is Agile?
The concept of Agile or agility is fairly broad and loosely defined in itself.
In 2001, a group of brilliant and experienced software engineers came together to create and articulate the Agile Manifesto, which consists of 4 primary values and 12 principles, to create a new style of working that empowered developers to focus on delivering great products and features that delighted customers without all the red tape and rigid processes that typically define a traditional project management style of working.
In a complicated environment, such as civil engineering, the work is challenging and difficult but for the most part, fairly easily to define and predict. If you’ve built a number of bridges, you can reasonably estimate a time frame, cost and what resources and people are necessary to complete the work.
In a complex environment, where you have never built the product or feature before and have never solved the problem before, you simply can’t know what you don’t know, and so it becomes incredibly hard to estimate, up front, how long something will take and how much that will cost.
You need to move forward with curiosity, creativity and collaboration in order to solve the problem or build the product or feature. You need to discover what works, and based on evidence and data, inform what you attempt next.
So, agile is a concept founded on 4 values and 12 principles rather than strict, rigid rules and processes that must be followed. Nobody is telling you how to do the work, they are instead providing you with values and principles that empower you to discover, create and collaborate.
When it comes to Agile frameworks, these too are lightweight and open-ended.
Something like Scrum, for example, has a few events and artefacts but it doesn’t tell you what to do or how to do the work. Experienced scrum practitioners will tell you that scrum doesn’t solve problems, it reveals problems, and gives you insight into what needs improving and what needs to be scrapped altogether.
What is coaching?
Coaching is another broad field, although it is somewhat better regulated and defined than what the Agile industry is. Led by the International Coaching Federation, there is a lot of training and certification paths available to grow newbie coaches into experienced professionals that can have a great impact on individuals and teams.
Coaches don’t DO anything nor are they responsible for the delivery of a product or service.
Their role is intangible and ephemeral, meaning that you could have a significant impact on a team of individuals because you have helped them achieve clarity, define a way forward, and take the necessary actions and decisions to achieve their goal.
Or, you could achieve nothing because the team are not ready to make the decisions or take the actions that are required and you have no authority to force them to do so. Instead, you are working from a position of influence and coaching techniques to achieve those outcomes.
What is Agile Coaching?
The way I view Agile coaching is that we are there to partner with individuals, teams and organizations to assist, aid and support them in their journey to increased agility and effectiveness.
We don’t do the work, nor are we responsible for the delivery of that work, but we do play a critical role in blending teaching, coaching and mentorship to help the individual and the team achieve their goals and objectives.
In some cases, we simply know the answer and the team would benefit from that knowledge and insight. In other cases, we need to go back to basics and explore how teaching could help the team understand the purpose of what we are attempting and how the agile framework, value or principle will help them achieve the outcomes they desire.
In other cases, coaching techniques and questions help uncover why something is important, what needs doing, and how best to achieve that outcome.
If we simply provide the answer, we aren’t helping the team grow nor are we exploring the best possible options because it’s limited to one perspective or level of expertise. The team contain the experts and as such, we’re better served allowing the team to discover the best way forward through experimentation, gathering data and evidence, and allowing that to inform what they attempt next.
An agile coach will be oriented toward agile, using the 4 agile values and 12 agile principles as a lens through which we guide individuals and teams, and we will also be using systems modelling and systems thinking to optimize for the whole rather than simply the local level.
That’s where an agile coach differs from a traditional coach.
The focus on agility, agile values and principles, and helping the team discover which style of working and what set of processes and systems best serve their unique needs and application.
We’re going to be thinking about how to get the team to collaborate more effectively, communicate more frequently and effectively, and co-operate across multiple functions and departments to achieve an organizational goal that aligns with a customer need or requirement.
So, we are focused on helping to create an environment where individuals and teams can excel, but we are doing that through the lens of agility and leveraging agile frameworks to help the team achieve the outcomes and objectives that most matter to them and the organization they serve.
About John McFadyen
If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Scrum Masters website.
For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.
If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.
If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (CSP-SM) course page.
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