What does an Agile Coach do during a Sprint?

To truly drive cultural and behavioural change takes time. It also takes experience – about 40% of agile initiatives fail due to lack of skills and experience with agile frameworks.

40 percent

Lack of skills/experience with agile frameworks

35 percent

Inconsistent processes and practices across teams

Insufficient training and education

Minimal collaboration and knowledge sharing

Source: State of Agile Survey (2019)

This is why I discuss the value of having highly experienced agile professionals on-hand to support their agile transformations and adoption of contemporary ways of working.

The Value of Agile Coaches

I often discuss with executives the value agile coaching brings. It goes beyond supporting development teams do the basics of Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives. We explore how having a highly experienced practitioner to guide, mentor, teach and coach different people in different roles develop a capability to continuously learn, improve, and drive value for customers, both internal and external. It doesn’t stop with Scrum Masters and their Development Teams. Agile coaching applies to Product Owners, business stakeholders, managers and executives. Everyone has a part to play in improving the whole system of work, and our consultants give of their knowledge and experiences to help grow an agile mindset, innovation, and an agile culture that results in improved lead times for delivery, lower capex and opex costs, better quality and improved customer and business relationships. 

So what does an Agile Coach do during a Sprint? 

ZXM’s Agile Consultants are hands-on. They work face-to-face with Scrum Masters, Product Owners, managers, business stakeholders and executives every day. Each isn’t allocated a single team. We have multiple teams and programs we support and coordinate with across multiple areas within and across several organisations. As coaching team, we sat down recently and brainstormed and discussed what is expected of an agile coach each Sprint. This includes:

  • Conduct one-on-one discussion/check in with each of their Scrum masters every week
  • Conduct one-on-one discussion/check in with each of their Product owners every week
  • Ensure discussions with Scrum Masters and Product Owners were documented in a Coaching Canvas
  • Perform team level assessments with teams at the end of each quarter or Program Increment (PI) if the client is using SAFe®
  • Conduct a discussion/check in with key agile mentee each week
  • Update Coaching Canvas for mentee to reflect area or focus and achievements/outcomes
  • Observe majority of Sprint events for teams of focus that Sprint (and the Program Increment if you’re using SAFe®)
  • Provide a prep and debrief session to Scrum Masters and Product Owners after the Scrum events to provide insights, promote learning and improvements
  • Support Scrum Masters and Product Owners in agile discussions with their business clients to improve transparency and business collaboration
  • Observe selected Sprint events for all their other teams that Sprint (and the Program Increment if the client is using SAFe®)
  • Observe at least one “Scrum of Scrums” each week
  • Observe at least one PO Sync or PO Council each week
  • Conduct a discussion or check-in with their Chief Scrum Master, Release Train Engineer, or equivalent “manager” each week
  • Conduct a discussion/check in with the Chief Product Owner or Product Manager each week
  • Observe one Product Management Group (PMG) event each Sprint when scaled agile is being employed
  • Facilitate agile events (as required/requested)
  • Contribute to/facilitate a knowledge session, Communities of Practice (CoP) event, or Lunch and Learn.
  • Participate in Agile Coaching Catch ups bi-weekly
  • Document all coaching activities in Agile coaching board
  • Provide coaching to Product Owners and Scrum Masters, ad-hoc updates as required to ensure transparency and escalation of issues in a timely way (not after the fact when no one can do anything about it)
  • Conduct a check-in with other coaches in your site/program at a Daily Scrum or coffee
  • Complete and submitted admin paper/timekeeping for client 
  • Participate in PI Planning preparation, Inspect and Adapt Workshops, and other scaled agile activities as required
  • Provide ad-hoc support as required by team and Program staffs
  • Provide ad-hoc support to other agile consultants as needed as collaboration is an important part of our agile values
  • Update documentation uploaded to the document repository so others can access when you are away

Conclusions

Agile coaches don’t sit back and wait for people to come to them with problems. Nor do they just focus on teams and building “happiness”. Many use patterns that ask deep questions to promote others to act, but don’t follow-through with supporting the creation of coaching plans for structured learning. Many even refuse to work in agile ways themselves. 

A good agile coach lives by the practices they support. They work actively with all levels of the organisation to reveal where the system of work can improve and helps people take action, drawing on established good practice. If you’re building your own agile coaching academy, look for experienced agile practitioners who can undertake the items on this list and demonstrate through action the kind of agile mindset and culture you’re seeking to create.

1. 13th Annual State of Agile Survey (2019) Collabnet. VersionOne.

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