It Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin
The Ronseal TV slogan has become a common British idiom for saying that someone or something is exactly what it claims to be. If you want to protect smooth planed wood in a dark mahogany satin finish that won’t flake or peel and dries in one hour, then read the tin and you know that what you are buying will do the job.
If only things were that easy when hiring an “Agile Coach”. One problem is that the title “Agile Coach” is overloaded – there are different definitions used by employers and Agile professionals themselves. “Agile Coach” is sometimes used to describe an expert practitioner with no developed emotional and people skills or aspirations to learn them. This is not a criticism or suggestion of deliberate obfuscation, rather I believe that it is accidental. The title “Agile Coach” has become overused as a generic term to describe many roles, in the way that “Hoover” is used to describe any brand of vacuum cleaner. How many job adverts do you see asking for an expert Lean/Agile practitioner rather than an Agile Coach? The responsibility lies with the hirer to understand the problem they would like help solving before deciding what skills they would like to hire.
Some Agile Coaches will be Technical experts, who are hands-on designing, coding, automating or executing some other practice and leading by example. Another Agile coach may be an expert in business strategy, business process management approaches and operations and may have knowledge relative to your domain. Or another Agile Coach may be expert in organizational change and helping organizations transform. Each of these areas of expertise have different demands on the skills of training, mentoring, facilitating and coaching. I was recently involved in the interview process for hiring “Agile Coaches” only to learn later that the hirer was not interested in the candidate’s professional coaching skills.
So, be clear on the problem you are trying to solve and then focus your hiring process on solving that before you buy. Whilst the wood stain described in the first paragraph is ideal for my new garden table it would not solve the problem of protecting my decking.
Here are my top 5 tips hiring a good Agile Coach.
1. Be clear on the problem you want help with.
2. Don’t put much store in the CV – it doesn’t tell you much.
The most informative piece of information on a CV is the duration of each contract term.
There are often genuine reasons for short-term Agile Coaching contracts but if there are many contracts of less than 3 months then I like to explore the reasons. Three months is a typical initial contract length and enough time for a hirer to understand whether they have made the right hire. It is difficult to hide multiple short-term contracts on a CV.
On the other hand, whilst staying in one place a long time indicates impressive loyalty, it may also mean that the candidate has had fewer opportunities for new learning and exposure to different situations.
3. Don’t treat all certifications as an indication of competence.
I understand the need to have them but I have observed that people with little experience or skill at team level Agile are able to become ‘certified’ to train others in how to scale Agile!! For this reason, I largely disregard them. Tip: Research what was required to obtain the certification in order to assess its level of value.
Meetups are great. Firstly, you get to learn new things, share ideas and meet interesting people. But also, the people who make the effort to go there after a day at work are usually passionate about what they do. You get the opportunity to see them present and/or you can talk to people directly. If you are passionate about hiring the right person, then attend Meetups.
5. Hire coaches who know that they don’t know and exhibit the Agile principle of continuous improvement.
The simplest way is to look for evidence of continuous investment in themselves.
Good luck in finding a great Agile Coach.
As an Enterprise Agile coach with Adventures with Agile, Ian helps large organisations in Insurance and the Financial Services sectors on their Agile transformation journey. He has worked at Portfolio and Programme level, supporting organizations transforming their budgeting and investment governance model to an Agile approach.