What Makes a Good Agile Coach? Building your Agile Capability: Part I

Agile Coaches come in all shapes and sizes. They’re differentiated from technical specialists and other capability leaders or managers in that they serve the wider organisation in a holistic way to create a business agility capability that delivers value. They’re the backbone of enterprise agility.

What skills does an Agile Coach need?

We’ve blogged before about the activities that an Agile Coach does each Sprint, and the areas of expertise they need to be successful. In essence, they focus their attention on supporting teams, leadership, and the whole system of work, to improve their Ability to Innovate (A2I) and Time to Market (T2M) through leveraging eight different core activities or stances.

What about Project Management skills?

Many areas in the business, including project management, rely on good agility. An Agile Coach’s skills are useful to support project management outcomes, but they are designed to create, support and improve enterprise agility. Should you expect project management skills or an agile project management certification from your Agile Coach? No. Is it useful? Yes, but product management tends to be moreso. Ultimately, an Agile Coach’s responsibility begins and ends with agile practice. It doesn’t extend into project management. 

A good Agile Coach knows how to read the room

Each Sprint, an Agile Coach assesses the context of their teams and considers which type of leadership is needed to support the team to deliver value. Where one team might have a capability gap in estimation that requires a formal training session or workshop, another team might need mentoring through estimation step-by-step. A good Agile Coach knows how to read the situation – the basis of context-based leadership.

How do you know if an Agile Coach is effective?

You can assess an Agile Coach on activities you can see – helping teams, running training sessions, printing off inspirational banners, and leading change. Unfortunately, this won’t tell you how effective your Agile Coach is. To do this, you need metrics to measure their impact and the outcomes those impacts create.

If enterprise agility is about value, Agile Coaches must deliver value in the form of Ability to Innovate (A2I) and Time to Market (T2M) – the essential metrics for business agility.

Measuring the success of your Agile Coaches

Impacts are the leading indicators of an Agile Coach’s work. At the very least, an Agile Coach should improve a team’s ability to:

Sprint Effectively

Continuously Improve

Demonstrate Agile Values

Support Self-Organisation

ZXM calls these four factors Agile IQ®.

Using Agile IQ® to measure impact

ZXM uses Agile IQ® to measure the impacts of Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, and the teams they support. Agile IQ® assesses industry standard agile actions and behaviours, using a non-linear, multi-factorial maturity model, to assess the overall impact of an Agile Coach. It accounts for approximately 80% of the human behaviours that impact and create a value-focussed, agile culture.

Agile IQ® measures the impacts on enterprise capability related to the following key value areas:

  • Ability to Innovate (A2I) – Ability to deliver a new capability that might better serve a customer need, pivot and change direction when customer needs change.
  • Time to Market (T2M) – Ability to deliver value faster for stakeholders, customers and users.
Learn more about ZXM’s Agile IQ® and how you can use it to measure your teams’ agility.

Why not measure ‘delivery’?

Delivery is vital and important to measure. Many organisations add this accountability to their Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches, turning them into Delivery- and Iteration Managers. Measuring and reporting on delivery, however, creates a short-term focus on activities, output and deliverables and away from value.

Link the impact of delivery of value to outcomes

Instead of measuring “delivery” success milestones, assess the impact that delivery has with respect to Current Value (CV) and Unrealised Value (UV). Agile Coaches should spend time supporting Product Owners and Product Managers to optimise the value their teams deliver in either of these two areas to create outward facing market and customer value.

Conclusions

It’s easy to think that an Agile Coach who creates artefacts and deliverables is effective at his job. This focus, unfortunately, is little more than cargo cult agile – all the form and none of the substance.

What makes a good Agile Coach is the ability to impact the system of work and improve it. Don’t sit back in awe, impressed by an Agile Coach and his words of wisdom, measure its impact.

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