Agile Coaching is essential for transformation stickiness
When you are looking to embrace enterprise agility and implement agile values, principles, & practices across your organization, you need the expertise to guide you along the path and align your business goals with the overall journey. Whether or not business agility is the right first step for you is an entirely different topic.
Agile coaches play a critical role in the journey to agility, especially the initial bootstrapping, getting the momentum and alignment with various leaders & stakeholders. Choosing the right agile coach can accelerate your agile transformation efforts.
The 15th State of Agile Report findings indicates significant growth in Agile adoption within software development teams, increasing from 37% in 2020 to 86% in 2021. Over 94% of companies claim to practice agile in some shape or form.
As agile goes mainstream, the term and role of the agile coach are also becoming widespread and a must-have role for effective agile transformation. With the varying levels of understanding & agile industrial complex created through different frameworks, certification bodies, etc, you may find different terms being used in the market to refer to agile coaches such as Agile Facilitators, Scrum Masters, Scrum Coaches, Iteration Managers, Kanban Coaches, or Enterprise Agile Coaches. Whilst people confuse the agile coach role with a facilitator role, there is more to this role than simply facilitation. The emerging profession of agile coaching requires an understanding of the different levels & complexities of transformation.
In this article, let us start with why first and then take a look at different types of agile coaches and what they bring to the table.
Why do you need an Agile Coach?
The first question you might ask is, Do we really need an Agile coach? Can’t we just do this ourselves?
Agility as we refer to it is about responding to change, finding better ways of working, and continuously improving through an inspect & adapt cadence. It is simple to understand, but very difficult or complex to implement and master, the consequence of which is that many leaders find it difficult to make a shift. One of the fundamental reasons for the problem is that of unachievable and inoperable prospects of applying agile values, principles, and practices within the projects, business units, and ultimately within the Organization. Moreover, there is no definite template for applying agility, given every organization’s context is different. Many frameworks guide the implementation of agile values & principles such as Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, Lean, and so on. However, the starting point & adoption curve is subjective to every company’s context.
There are a multitude of reasons to hire an agile coach, but a company’s motive to do so may influence whether or not they’ll see the results they’re looking for.
Many organizations hire agile coaches to fix team-level issues such as team performance or specific transformation problems in a business unit. Some of the examples may include:
- Getting the Continuous delivery in place
- Friction between Product Owners and Scrum Masters
- Improve Backlog management
- Improve Continuous Planning
- Improvement in quality
- Increase in the team’s velocity
Some organizations hire agile coaches to guide them with broader problems, such as creating a target operating model or organizational design or lack of alignment between teams. These broader problems involve the handling of the political landscape, having senior leadership conversations, and system thinking & organization design.
Different levels of agile coaching
It’s essential to hire the right type of agile coach considering the needs & motives of the transformation. Every organization has different needs and their needs regarding agile coaches may vary.
The Agile Coach guides the organization to make the right decisions. The agile principles, values, and mindset are transferred to everyone in the entire company and the business goals and objectives are met.
Coaches accelerate transformation by:
- Training groups of people
- Observing teams and events
- Coaching individuals and teams
- Mentoring individuals and teams
- Facilitating workshops
- Building and maintaining relationships with everyone involved
- Working with teams/members in a tell, show, and do approach
- Coach leaders and business stakeholders
- Whether you are an agile coach or looking to hire agile coaches, it’s important to understand how much of a difference agile coaching is making to your organization’s ultimate goal: to deliver value to your customers.
Let us delve into different levels of agile coaching.
Agile Team Coach
The team coach is the most common type of coach. The focus of a team coach is on bringing high performance to a team. The goal of a team coach is to help a team transition to agile practices and ultimately increase the team’s performance. These coaches are focused on team-level practices and behaviours rather than department or organization-wide adoption of agile. They help with the flow of work, create better ways of working and help the team actively identify problems and then work together for an optimal solution.
Agile Team Coaches work with one to four teams and focus on improving team performance and the flow of work. If they are experienced enough, they might focus on flow and dependencies between teams and bring about better business agility. In some instances where teams have matured and have experienced scrum masters, Agile Team Coaches can span their coaching across 6-8 teams based on deep touch & light touch combinations. Beyond 8 teams, you will see no true benefit or value of having a coach as it spreads too thin and an individual may not have time & mind space to focus on individual team improvement items. The graph below depicts that with higher team maturity an agile coach can span his or her coaching to more teams.
This data is captured from over 50 Agile Coaches and Transformation Lead Interviews.
Typical undertakings of an agile team coach are:
- Coaching and mentoring Scrum Masters and Teams on agile values, principles, and practices
- Establishing cadence for the team and facilitating agile events
- Assessing agile practice maturity
- Measuring the results of transitioning to agile
- Training groups of people
- Observing teams and events
- Coaching individuals and teams
- Mentoring individuals and teams
- Facilitating workshops
- Coaching Product Owners and Product Managers on Backlog Management and agile ways of working
- Work with Kanban teams & apply Kanban principles to drive flow
Agile Program Coach
The Agile Program Coachworks at the value stream or program level which inherently means alignment, collaboration, and synchronization across multiple teams and various stakeholders to deliver business outcomes. The Agile Program Coach is responsible for coaching and mentoring Scrum Masters, Agile Product Owners, Managers, and Executives to leverage agile principles, practices, and frameworks.
The Agile Program Coach serves as a subject matter expert on scaling agile, including the use of scaling frameworks (such as SAFe, Scrum@Scale, LeSS, Nexus, etc.), and can help organizations identify their value stream. She/He supports various teams, team leaders, and delivery leaders.
The Agile program coach embraces true leadership and displays behaviors that come with the key mindset shifts associated with being Agile.
- Work with Product Managers, Product Owners, and Stakeholders to define program vision, mission, etc.
- Facilitate Program Inception, Release Planning / Big Room Planning
- Coach Product Owners in adaptive planning approaches
- Work with Agile Team Coaches to ensure alignment on approach, cadence, and team interaction model
- Train and coach leaders on agile practices, techniques, and semantics ensuring that ceremonies such as Scrum@Scale, PO Sync, Program Showcases, etc. take place
- Identify and coach internal agile champions, to remove reliance on external mentors
- Ensure agile metrics are being tracked, monitor them for indications of potential problems, and assist teams to implement solutions to those problems
- Assist in resolving impediments that prevent agile teams from completing sprint commitments
- Guide on creating agile artifacts
- Understands and can address business drivers for a transformation
- Coordinate and align with other coaches and consultants
- Ensure reporting and governance are optimized for agile ways of working
Agile Program Coach works with one to two initiatives or programs or value streams and focuses on improving overall program performance and the flow of work. It is highly contextual and depends on the size, complexity, and scale of the initiatives. In some scenarios, we have seen multiple Agile Program Coaches associated with 1 Single Program/ Initiative. In such cases, all Agile Program Coaches form a working group to ensure alignment and consistency across all teams, program execution, and governance.
Portfolio Agile Coach
The Agile Portfolio Coachworks at the portfolio level (or business unit level) which inherently means alignment, collaboration, and synchronization across multiple programs, initiatives, and various stakeholders to deliver business outcomes.
Portfolio coaches encourage leaders to be more opportunistic with their investments, Their expertise includes alignment across value streams & facilitating high–level product goals that deliver measurable value to stakeholders. One of the critical elements a portfolio agile coach brings to the table is contextual improvements and measurable outcomes through bottom-up metrics.
Portfolio coaches also bring innovative ideas for experimentation such as new budgeting techniques, such as Horizon budgeting and product funding, creating the opportunity to invest more in the areas that are flourishing and pull back from those that are underperforming. Additionally, Portfolio Coaches coach leaders on how to manage risk using a lean approach to accounting and budgeting. Portfolio coaches follow an approach of decentralized control, transparency, and experimentation.
Depending on the size and scale of a portfolio or business unit, you may have multiple Agile Portfolio Coaches who work with the portfolio sponsors, technology leaders, product managers, and product owners on day to day basis to drive various elements of the ways of working such as prioritization, interaction model, team composition, metrics and reporting, governance and compliance and so on.
Enterprise Agile Coach
Enterprise agile coaching is a very broad yet specialized skill set. Usually, the Enterprise Agile Coaches have to possess knowledge of organizational design, enterprise change management, and executive leadership coaching (in addition to the Portfolio, Program, and Team level coaching skills). They demonstrate a practical understanding of one or more enterprise Agile frameworks such as Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large-scale Scrum (LeSS), Nexus, or Disciplined Agile Delivery (DaD).
The primary work an enterprise agile coach brings to the table is the ability to influence and impact the top leadership of the organization. They work with leadership from strategy to operations, define target operating model, transformation roadmap, and guidelines, and facilitate decisions.
The key difference between an enterprise agile coach and a portfolio/program agile coach is the ability to connect dots across the program & portfolios, bringing synergies and navigating the political landscape of the organization while ensuring the change management is not stalled.
An Enterprise Agile Coach is less active in the day-to-day tasks of supporting teams to implement agile practices and is more concerned with helping to change the overall structure of the company to facilitate the Agile principles. This task requires working with the senior leadership and helping them understand the benefits of Agile as well as the structure needed to make it sustainable within the organization.
There are also specialized enterprise coaches for leadership/executive coaching, and cultural and organization design coaching. These coaches usually are engaged in SME capacity for a relatively short term.
In an enterprise, depending on the size, scale and complexity – you may have multiple enterprise agile coaches supporting the transformation. In our experience, we have also seen 1 or 2 enterprise coaches taking the charge of driving the overall enterprise operating model that they co-create with leaders and portfolio/program coaches. Often they form a core working group with other coaches to drive an overall transformation roadmap with leaders.
Coaching Levels In A Single Diagram
Based on our experience working with over 20+ transformations across a diverse sets of industries and crowdsourcing from 50+ agile coaches from the industry, we have consolidated different levels, the scope at which they work and stakeholders they influence & enable to accelerate the transformation journey. This can be used as a quick reference point for ensuring you’re hiring the right capabilities and setting up the right expectations with the agile coaches.
What are the benefits of using an Agile Coach?
Agile coaches are the catalysts for creating a learning culture. They contribute to improving productivity, teaching people new skills, and transforming ways of working. They also create a positive working environment for teams and others. Below are some of the benefits you can leverage by hiring agile coaches in your organization:
On-ground real-life expertise
An agile coach brings practical experience in agile ways of working. They specialize in applying these experiences to improve the overall performance of teams, teams of teams, and leaders. This real-world experience in applying the principles, values, and frameworks makes a big difference.
An agile coach has intuitive and professional knowledge of these agile ways of working. They have worked with numerous organizations, and they have leveraged new opportunities and change for their teams.
Agile coaches work as your trusted partners. Agile Coach is not only aligned with but is also invested in your organization’s long-term goals. As coach, they provide unbiased and practical advice to drive transformation outcomes.
Building Coaching Competency
Agile coaches build coaching competency for the organization to move towards a sustainable agile capability. They believe in continual improvement can happen in the absence of the Coach themselves. For this purpose, the agile coach creates and promotes collaboration across all coaches and scrum masters. They also inspire the creation of communities of practice to bring agile champions across the organization together.
Observer and Sounding Board
Agile Coaches an observer who finds and communicates insights, impediments, and issues that you may have not noticed. The neutral, third-party perspective also gives credence to what internal team members have also already observed and communicated. Agile coaches also act as a sounding board to the teams & leaders to validate and advise improvement ideas and new approaches.
Sometimes, the most powerful benefits of Agile coaching come from the fact that the coach is an outside party without preconceived notions or bias about your organization. His or her observations, filtered through the lens of experience and knowledge, can bring to light improvements and areas for growth that an internal associate trained to carry the agile torch could easily overlook.
Since agile coaches train your team about the right processes, they can implement their responsibilities without any errors. Because your staff has a mentor, they are also inspired. On top of that, agile coaches point out mistakes and blockages in your processes—all of these work hand in hand to elevate your company’s productivity levels. Agile coaching allows everyone in your team, as well as all your equipment and processes to work in balance.
Thanks to the nurturing of your agile coach, costly delays are minimized, and misunderstandings are deterred. Your team is highly motivated to work and to see good results. Because of everyone’s team effort, you increase your company’s profitability.
More than just a coach
One of the best benefits of hiring an agile coach is that you’re getting more than just a coach that guides you on the best courses of action to take.
You’re getting a collaborator- someone who can bring teams and employees together and employ effective communication strategies to make sure everyone is on the same board. You’re getting a mentor, in the sense that an agile coach inspires employees and aims to nurture relationships and improve workplace motivation and enthusiasm.
Finally, you’re getting your trainer, as your agile coach creates and designs effective strategies and routines to improve your organization’s strength and expertise.
There are many more benefits that can come from making use of a professional agile coach. If you’d like to see those benefits in your organization, take a moment to review our Agile Transformation and Coaching services and fill out the form on the right to request more information with no obligation.
How to measure the effectiveness of an Agile Coach?
Organizations often hire coaches without having tangible goals in mind other than to improve. This ambiguity makes measurement difficult for both the coaches and company leaders. Companies should hire agile coaches with achievable goals in mind, or be able to point to areas in which they feel the organization needs improvement.
Concrete metrics to measure Agile Coach’s effectiveness
Most organizations measure effectiveness based on overall organization goals like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Objective Key Results (OKRs), and similar metrics.
If the focus is on the Organizational Leaders stance:
- 360-degree interviews
- Post coaching evaluations
- Visible Impact produced
If the focus is on the coach’s stance:
- Coaching plans in place
- Number of teams liftoff / enabled
- Number of people who access coaching
- Improvement in Team’s Agile Practice Maturity
- Agile delivery metrics
- Final coaching reports
What kind of improvements do companies look for when hiring an Agile Coach?
There are a lot of reasons to hire an agile coach, but a company’s motive to do so may impact whether or not they’ll see the results they’re looking for. While some changes are market-driven, the need for coaching can also be driven by regulatory changes, internal factors, or difficult situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Companies bring in agile coaches to address problems ranging from team-level issues such as missing sprint goals and increasing bug counts to broader problems, such as organizational design or lack of alignment between teams.
Other varieties of factors include:
- Continuous Delivery
- The development team is unable to handle frequent changes
- Increasing team velocity
- Improvement in quality
- Reset or restart their transformation journey
- Coach Leadership on new ways of working
- Align Scorecard and Transformation
- Create Transformation Strategy and Roadmap
- Product Coaching for emerging new Technology
- Cultural Transformation
- Coaching for Business Leaders
- Technical Agility Coaching
- Business Agility Coaching
What are the challenges to effective Agile Coaching?
The biggest obstacle in agile coaching is leadership’s inability to understand the indirect impact of agility beyond pockets. Leaders who see agility as only applying to others and not themselves can severely impact the success of any transformation. However, leadership isn’t the only challenge to successful agile coaching. Several other factors come into play like pressure from management and time constraints. It can be difficult to coach a team when that team lacks knowledge or awareness of the benefits of coaching. It’s also tough to find adequate time to coach when teams are under huge pressure to deliver within a short timeframe.
When the roles and responsibilities are not well defined, it creates confusion, builds a blame culture, and prevents people from taking ownership. When this happens, it can be hard for people to open up to the coach and to build relationships that help transform the teams.
Some of the other challenges are:
- A coach assigned to many teams
- No coaching agreement or lack of buy-in from the team and/or organization
- Frequent changes to coaching goals or organizational goals
- Failing to provide adequate support for coaching and growth
- Coaching is used to copy paste a framework
- Coaching recommendations are ignored and org continue to work in their way
- Coaches are hired without practical hands-on experience
Agile Coaching is a unique and specialised capability. It designs your organization and teams to transform in one way or another. You need to understand the tolerance for disruption your organization has and look for a coach that challenges you and the status quo in your organization. It is important to hire a coach with a clear and specific goal you want to achieve. Setting clear coaching contracts with teams and leaders is essential to tracking & manage coaching outcomes.
At Massivue we help in creating an agile operating model to drive new ways of working. Defining how value flows, teams are structured and how they interact are key elements of the operating model. Our program, portfolio, and enterprise coaches can help you define and roll out a fit-for-purpose operating model & accelerate your transformation journey.
If you are looking to hire an agile coach or want to evaluate your current transformation approach, our experts will be able to provide purpose-built services for your context. Feel free to reach out for a no-obligation discussion