Want to be an Agile Coach? Being a Lean Agile Leader and Practitioner is key!

If your an agile coach, just knowing Agile, or Scrum, or how to set up a Kanban board won’t be enough to get you though the complexities involved in successfully performing the role and being an agile leader. Working on yourself is an important aspect of servant leadership. As an agile coach, proactively seek to expand your knowledge and capabilities practice intentionally as part of your own continuous improvement.

The best coaches in my experience, are ones that have a growth mindset, lead the way in growing their own knowledge and understanding about Lean and Agile concepts, focus on values and principles and look at developing practices and patterns to support and drive behavioural change.

Expand your Knowledge and Capabilities

An Agile Coach should first and foremost always be growing their expertise and sharing what they learn to help grow the people around them. When I am asked to describe what I do as an agile coach, I talk about the coaching model and the 8 elements of agile coaching and describe an Agile Coach as someone who:

  • Is a Lean, Agile, leader and practitioner
  • Role-models behaviour
  • Encourages others to continuously improve how they work through:
    • Consulting, Counselling, and Advising
    • Teaching and Training
    • Mentoring
    • Facilitating
    • Professional Coaching
  • Drives Organisational Change

It takes time to build these skills and knowledge so it’s important to prioritise your learning rather than it be sometime to do when you have “spare time”. Look at how much time you can realistically carve out for learning and build it into your day and work life. Plan and identify what you need to know and what is the best mechanism to get that learning through formal and informal learning channels.

Seek knowledge, skills, techniques, and anecdotes

  • Foundational knowledge will help you understand the why and the theory
  • Add more advanced knowledge topics once you you have a good foundation to build upon
  • Skills and techniques will help you take action
  • Anecdotes will help drive an emotional connection and help you find ways to apply your learning
  • Blogs and books can meet some of these needs. I tend to look at scrum.org or blogs from thought leaders to ensure I am learning from a credible source

Experiential, high quality training can also meet this learning need

  • Going through Scrum.org’s Professional Scrum courses really helped me consolidate my learning and expand my knowledge and range into facilitation, coaching and training by pursuing their Professional Scrim Trainer pathway
  • Attending Meet Ups , coaches camps and conferences has helped me expand my network of peers that i can discuss and brainstorm ideas with and bring those ideas and learning back to my clients and teams

But it’s not enough to simply learn you also have to be able to apply what you have learnt.

Practice Intentionally

Learning and sharing is not enough, an Agile Coach must also demonstrate they practice what they preach! The real learning comes through practice.

Being a practitioner is key. Agile Coaches should experiment with new practices and techniques as it gives you a lot more credibility. The team is likely to be much more receptive to a coach that says “I’ve tried this, and I really liked it, and here’s why, and what I got out of it – I think you could get something too, lets try an experiment and see” rather than a coach that falls into the “do what I say and not what I do” category.

Practicing with intention means you choose something specific to practice, and you clearly define what you want to learn from the practice.

Here are a few examples of practicing with intention:

  • Using a new technique to facilitate powerful Retrospectives to mix things up
  • Facilitating a story mapping session to help teams focus on users and see the big picture
  • Using powerful questions to empower teams and promote self-organisation
  • Going into a difficult conversation assuming positive intent and focusing on shared outcomes
  • Challenging a team to continuously improve and strive for better instead of settling for good enough
  • Being fully present and practicing active listening in every conversation
  • Blog and write about it
  • Give a talk about it at a local Meet Up, a conference, or to a team or group within your organisation

Mentoring, Coaching and Encourage Change

There are many stances a agile coach uses to support agile team. Knowing when to mentor , coach, train, facilitate, counsel or be a lean practitioner or change agent will be dependent on team context and their capability and maturity level as an agile team or organisation.

Mentoring is an interesting stance and involves using past experience to give a person or teams ideas about how to approach or solve a problem. It may be things you as the coach have personally experienced, or in working with other teams and coaches may be things that have been shared with you. One caveat about mentoring is to always add the qualifier that just because something worked for another team, in another situation, under certain and similar circumstances, does not guarantee it will work for them or that it’s the right or best thing to do. Mentoring can help uncover and share ideas, but every team, every individual is different, as are companies. It means it may be a starting point, but is not the same as saying “you should do it this way.”

Coaching on the other hand is a partnership between a coach and individual or team, where their needs are the focus of the interaction. It is intended to be thought-provoking, and used where a coach believes the individual or team is an expert on their work and context. The intent is to help them unlock, uncover, or unpack the information (often through the use of questions), encouraging them to come up with solutions and strategies for moving forward, and empower them to be accountable and responsible for the solution. The agile coach should not be doing the work for the team, they are there to “Reveal and not Resolve”.

Encourage Change and respond to resistance to change. Agile coaches need to understand what drives behaviour and how humans respond to and feel about change. Focus on how you can support the m through the change and create a desire to change and to be involved and have ownership of the change. Dealing with resistance to change and finding ways to overcome is also an area that comes up regularly, especially as it relates to “Agile/Digital Transformation”. As an Agile Coach there is no automatic authority in the role, the team doesn’t have to listen to you. Instead an agile coach should gain ‘authority’ through influence and building strong relationships.

Conclusions

The objective and focus of an agile coach is on supporting and helping agile teams to work well together, collaboration, solving problems through self organisation and work at a sustainable pace. An agile coach should have a deep understanding of agile frameworks such as Scrum and Lean and learn and share this knowledge. They also should have deep experience as a practitioner and intentionally practice and hone their skills in order to support, coach, mentor and encourage teams to develop an agile mindset and a growth mindset to continuously improve.

About the author

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