What is an Agile Coach?

This post follows on from What is Agile? If you didn’t read that, then please it read it now. Otherwise, this isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense.

OK, let’s begin. What is an Agile Coach?

The word ‘coach’, like the old stage coaches, can be taken to mean a vehicle by which people are transported from one place to another.

The agile journey, of course, is not geographical, it is mental. It is a mind-set shift that allows the organisation’s survival in a complex and adaptive marketplace and to make people’s working lives better and for them to reach their true potential.

I don’t want to discuss what value or risk reduction is, or even people’s true potential. These are unique to your situation. And that is where the challenge lies.

The Business Need

Why can’t an organisation just install current best processes, practices, and tools, by defining artefacts, roles, the interactions between roles, and tell staff to get on with it?

To ask that question demonstrates the underlying problem. Without the right mind-set, it is impossible to even see the right problem, let alone the right solution.

Agile is not just a set of tools, processes, and practices, as we saw in the previous post. It is an adaptive solution that requires decisions to be made on an hourly or daily basis by the people doing the work. The inner parts of the onion are not fixed.

Instead, the tools and practices are held in balance to serve the immediate need of the current marketplace and need to be adapted continuously and relentlessly by people who understand the underlying principles, values, and mind-set.

 

 

Without the right mind-set, values, and principles, the organisation won’t understand or be able to make the right changes. They simply won’t allow the right process and tools to be implemented, which includes the devolution of power (trust) and allows those closest to problems to solve those problems and to adapt the process they follow.

Even if the right processes and tools were somehow magically installed, the ‘current best practices’ would immediately become old and any adaptation and self-improvement can only be as good at the collective agile mind-set of those making the corrective changes.

Given where most organisations are right now, without coaches, the mind-set adoption is quite likely to be low, resulting in a large gap between the potential value possible and the actual value realised. In other words, an organisation’s tools and processes need to adapt at least as fast as the demands placed on them by the rapidly changing market place. Without help, that lack of agile mind-set will not allow the right improvements to be continually made, and a gap will appear between what is needed and what exists.

That gap is exactly the size of the deficit of the aggregate agile mind-set of all the people involved compared to where they could be with the right coaching. In other words, it is the deviation from the organisation’s optimal process due to the lack of agile mind-set, values, and principles of those making the optimisation decisions.

The Role of the Coach

It is the role of Agile / Lean Coaches to fill that gap, by guiding the organisation continuously to make the right decisions until the principles, values and mind-set are transferred to everyone in the entire company. When this has been achieved, the coaches should not be needed.

 

Coaches do this by:

  • training groups of people,
  • coaching individuals,
  • mentoring staff,
  • facilitating workshops,
  • building and maintaining relationships with everyone involved.


A coach’s must haves

Coaches must have a deep understanding of the Agile / Lean landscape.
All coaches are different, having different specialisms, such as technical, business, or transformation mastery. They vary by their own understanding and experience.
An organisation needs to balance its group of coaches so that all the coaching specialisations are covered by the group. It is unlikely to find a single coach that can cover all aspects of organisational change.

Coaches need to have deep emotional intelligence.
This allows them to perceive and remove roadblocks that appear in a person’s ability to change. They need to be able to open people’s minds to new possibilities. This requires courage, trust, and patience.

Coaches need to be free from hierarchal and political constraints.
To be able to open people’s mind to new possibilities, coaches need to be free from hierarchical constraints and the political restrictions this brings. They need to have access to everyone. They need to have a wide scope. Without that, the right conversations will not happen; the mind-set will not change, and the tools, practices, and processes will deviate from what is required, and the agile journey (or worse, the organisation) will fail.

Conclusion

Agile Coaches are the vehicle by which individuals learn to be agile. Coaches open people’s minds to new possibilities which changes the way they make decisions and interact with each other. Over time, those being coached will change their organisation’s culture. Agile Coaches give the organisation the ability to adapt to new challenges and to become a learning organisation. This is a multi-year adventure for most organisations, although many do not realise it when they begin.

Eventually, the Coaches can leave because the organisation has transparency, ability to adapt, and learning in its DNA. The organisation through its staff, embody the agile mind-set, values, and principles, allowing adaptation in processes and tools.

 


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Simon Powers
Simon Powers is an Agile Coach specialising in large scale transformations and agile adoption. He has a background in very large enterprise architecture which has led on to organisational design and agile process refinement. Simon is the founder of Adventures with Agile.