The 8 Elements of Agile Coaching

There are quite a few ideas circulating about what makes a good agile coach. Should they be a senior developer with excellent coding prowess? Do they need technical skills? Should they be something more?

Lyssa Adkins has a well-known coaching model amongst agile professionals. I saw it last year when I was at the huge Agile 2015 conference in Washington D.C..

When I saw Lyssa presenting this model in a role play session up on the stage, though, I was struck by what I saw. Having a psych background, I saw her helping someone to resolve pain. It wasn’t coaching. It was something else. Immediately, I rushed to jot down what was in my mind.

What are the 8 Elements of Agile Coaching

ZXM’s model of agile coaching recognises that agile goes beyond supporting software development:

  • Mentor – Develops ‘how to’s.
  • Consultant – Develops frameworks.
  • Coach – Develops and sets shared goals.
  • Counsellor – Develops structures to resolve disfunction.
  • Change Agent – Focusses on embedding change.
  • Facilitator – Supports a formal outcome without advice.
  • Lean Leader – Develops people.
  • Trainer/Teacher – Focuses on skills development through instruction.

Unlike Lyssa’s model, we’ve done away with the domain elements of technical, business and transformation mastery, and instead developed additional ‘hats’ as part of a contingency-based coaching model after Feidler’s work on contingency-based leadership. This enables the model to apply to any domain whether the coach has a technical background or whether the coach is coaching in technical, design or business environment.

In aligning with Alistair Cockburn’s Heart of Agile and Shu Ha Ri Kokoro we’re proposed that the 8 elements make up the Ri stage with Kokoro as the elite Agile Coach stage where coaching competencies and behaviours boil down to:

  • Listening with empathy.
  • Asking deep questions.
  • Empowering and enabling people to act.
  • Reinforcing agile actions and behaviours.
  • Increasing insight.

Using the Model

Out of recent teams’ Retrospectives on client site, I’ve been gathering the coaching group together and looking at the problems, issues and capability growth opportunities we’ll tackling next Sprint or two. These go into the coaches’ Retrospective, where we assess the root cause, determine which coaching element out of the 8 best applies to the context, and then which coach has the greatest strength in that area. That coach then leaves to plan and remedy and/or support the issue at hand.

Conclusions

Rather going on gut feel, this model has given our coaches a language they can use for discussion as not only a shared way of addressing issues but also to recognise strengths in each other’s coaching styles.

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