What is an Agile Coach?

  • There are a lot of misconceptions about what an Agile Coach is or isn’t at the moment. Are they the Scrum Master of a team? Does their role include coaching the team or is is something more?

What we hear in the market

The job market for agile coaches is quite interesting. What job marketing companies list as what’s required to be an Agile Coach is full of rumours, whispers, and few truths. 

  • “You need to have Project Management skills to be an Agile Coach, so just add “agile” to the front of all your project management titles on LinkedIn.”
  • “As a contractor, “Agile Coach” is a far more popular job title.”
  • “No, don’t change it to Scrum Master, you’ll get paid less!”
  • “Why don’t you call yourself Scrum Guru? Agile Transformation Coach? Enterprise Change Agent?”
  • “At least call yourself a Senior Scrum Master or Chief Scrum Master!”
  • “All the cool stuff is done by Agile Coaches; as a Scrum Master you’re stuck within your Scrum Team.”

Myth busting

You don’t need project management experience.

Roles such as Agile Project Management, Delivery Manager, Iteration Manager are typically an artefact of organisations shifting from their old, command-and-control, project management ways of working into more contemporary frameworks that involve product management (yes, these are different things). Unfortunately, these management roles aren’t going to equip you with the experience you need to advise, mentor and teach people on leading industry practice in product management.  

We see a lot of companies who want to be agile conflating the support they need with their traditional way of working. It manifests in the titles they ask for:

  • Project Manager/Iteration Manager
  • Iteration Manager/Scrum Master
  • Delivery Manager/Scrum Master
  • Team Lead/Scrum Master
  • Technical Scrum Master
  • Jira Expert/Scrum Master

Strangely, none of the titles on the left are actually roles in any agile framework.

ZXM has been doing agile coaching for a long time. Here’s what we do. 

For ZXM, Agile Coaching is Agile Consulting. It involves working across multiple teams and business lines across an organisation to help:

You need experience to succeed

To be effective, Agile Coaches require deep, applied expertise and experience across multiple organisations, multiple projects and industries. They must have experience coaching Scrum Masters, Products Owners, Program Leadership and Executives, to help support these people in their roles context regarding what agile frameworks to use, how to get started, and how to work through problems that arise from conflicts in adoption, culture, and practice. Ultimately, they help people realise the best benefits from their investment in agile ways of working.

It’s about getting hands-on

Agile Coaches are hands-on, face-to-face consultants. They coach, mentor, train, counsel, and facilitate implementation of agile frameworks using the latest industry recognised best practices. Agile Coaches do not have legitimate power in the team or program – they have referent and expert power – so they by influence, and expertise, and are there to support teams and their whole system of work across programs and the wider organisation.

 

Importantly, Agile Coaches are not there to just observe and answer questions when engaged. Agile Coaching isn’t about just ensuring the agile events are happening or observing teams and imparting wisdom on what they should do next. It a very active and hands-on role.

What should Agile Coaches be doing?

What are the key aspects of the role at ZXM?

  • Foster an agile culture across the organisation through promoting “what’s in it for me” and demonstrating how to be agile by doing it themselves. 
  • Teach, coach, train and mentor teams, programs and their leadership to be agile and develop an agile mindset
  • Drive agile cultural and behavioural change through supporting managers and executives to lead the change themselves
  • Drive consistency of practice adoption to ultimately improve team and organisational agility
  • Use agile frameworks such as Scrum to drive continuous improvement
  • Review teams and large programs’ agile capability maturity using ZXM’s Agile IQ® framework and tools
  • Work hands-on with client teams to support them to plan and implement improvements to their agile capability maturity
  • Always be looking for what next –  how do we get better, get faster, drive value for customers?
  • Help solve complexity with teams by encouraging and supporting them to run experiments and test hypothesis
  • Ensure feedback loops help drive and support decision making
  • Help improve people’s working lives by working in more agile ways

About the author

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