OK, let’s begin.
What is an Agile Coach?
Firstly, 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 mindset shift that allows the organisation’s survival in a complex and adaptive marketplace, 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
So, why can’t an organisation simply install current best processes, practices, and tools, by defining artefacts, roles, and the interactions between roles, then tell staff to get on with it?
Well, to ask that question demonstrates the underlying problem. Without the right mindset, 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 our 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 agile onion are not fixed.
Instead, the tools and practices are held in balance to serve the immediate need(s) of the current marketplace. These need to be adapted continuously and relentlessly by people who understand the underlying principles, values, and mindset.
Without the right mindset…
Without the right mindset, values, and principles, the organisation will neither understand nor be able to make the right changes. They simply won’t allow the right process and tools to be implemented. This 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. Any adaptation and self-improvement can only be as good as the collective agile mindset of those making the corrective changes.
Given where most organisations are right now, without coaches, the mindset 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 marketplace. Without help, that lack of agile mindset 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 mindset 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 mindset, 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. They do this by continuously guiding the organisation to make the right decisions until the principles, values and mindset 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 who 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 minds to new possibilities, coaches need to be free from hierarchical constraints and the political restrictions this brings. They must have access to everyone. They must have a wide scope. Without that:
- the right conversations will not happen
- the mindset will not change
- the tools, practices, and processes will deviate from what is required
- the agile journey (or worse, the organisation) will fail
Agile Coaches are the vehicle by which individuals learn to be agile. Coaches open people’s minds to new possibilities and this 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. However, many do not realise this when they begin.
Eventually, the Coaches can leave because the organisation has transparency, the ability to adapt, and learning in its DNA. The organisation, through its staff, embodies the agile mindset, values, and principles, allowing adaptation in processes and tools.
Are you interested to know how to become an agile coach? Start by reading this article.
Finally, are you curious about Agile Ways of Working? We answer your most frequently asked questions here.