Every other week I have a geek and gossip breakfast with fellow Agile coach Nathan from Boost New Media. Last time he told me that at Boost they had replaced the word “Scrum Master” with “Agile coach”.
It makes complete sense: The most important part of the Scrum Master role is coaching. Also, many of us have added techniques and principles from Lean, Kanban, Systems Thinking and XP to Scrum which now makes the term “Scrum Master” way too limited to describe the role.
Still, I couldn’t help feeling that someone was stepping on my toes. My knee-jerk reaction was “Well, fine if they’re Agile coaches, then what am I?”
I knew Nathan was right, still something was bugging me.
I realised that what I was missing was a structure that would allow me to categorise and label different type of coaches to better articulate the differences and commonalities between them.
The first distinction I’d like to make is between temporary and permanent coaches. The next is by specialisation.
Permanent and temporary coaches
Temporary coaches are transformative: They are change agents who get an organisation or team started and guide them through the learning process of understanding and correctly applying Agile values, principles, concepts, and techniques.
After their work is done temporary coaches hand over to internal, permanent coaches and move on. Temporary coaches are often consultants, and one of their most important tasks is to build-up permanent coaches who can continue their work once they have left.
Success for a temporary coach means that the team keeps improving after the coach has left. Ultimately the temporary coach’s goal is to put themselves out of a job.
The most important skill for a temporary coach is the ability to introduce, manage and communicate new ideas, behaviours and attitudes and to do this together with people rather than “to” them.
Permanent coaches stay with a team and/or organisation long after the temporary coach has left. They are often part of a team and their main objective is to make sure that the team keeps improving over time.
Permanent coaches often continue a temporary coach’s work. They focus on continuous improvement and make sure to remind the organisation and team of their agreement to honour Agile values, concepts and principles.
They resemble sports coaches in their nature – much like professional athletes and sports teams Agile teams perform a lot better with a coach.
An important skill for a permanent coach is the ability to maintain enthusiasm about Agile and to keep things fresh and interesting.
Apart from length of involvement there’s another dimension that categorises Agile coaches: Specialities. Like medical doctors specialising in different fields of medicine Agile coaches specialise in different areas, too.
Here’s my take on the main types of specialisation within Agile coaching:
Technical coaches focus on practices such as TDD, refactoring, Behaviour Driven Development, shared code ownership or continuous integration. They work closely with programmers and coaching is often done through pair programming.
Team coaches focus on collaboration, process, leadership and requirements/ideas. They work mostly with team members and are often part of a team as e.g. the Scrum Master. Their main objective is to turn collections of people into collaborative teams and to instill lasting change in behaviours, attitudes and habits to support Agile values within and around the team.
They also interact closely with product managers, business analysts and line managers. Coaching is often done through facilitating events and creating learning opportunities.
Organisational coaches mostly work with managers and focus on portfolio management, capacity management, scaling and co-ordination of development efforts, and how the different parts of the organisation work with Agile teams. They mainly help organisations make the necessary adaptations to benefit from Agile. Coaching is mostly done in one-on-one sessions and workshops.
Business coaches work with the product management aspect of the business. They focus on introducing principles and techniques for providing value to end users, stakeholders and organisations and draw from ideas from design thinking, user experience and Lean UX and the lean startup. They mainly help businesses “build the right thing”. Coaching is mostly done in one-on-one sessions and workshops.
Personal coaches help individuals define, plan and achieve their professional (and sometimes personal) goals. They take a strictly non-directive approach and guide people towards finding their own solutions. They use techniques and frameworks from personal coaching such as co-active coaching and coaching usually takes place in one-on-one sessions.
Coaches for each specialty can be permanent or temporary.
There is often an overlap of skills and tasks between specialties and most Agile coaches have some knowledge in each area. However, in general Agile coaches specialise in one primary area and have one or two secondary areas that support their primary one.
I’d love to know from Agile coaches what they think about my attempt to categorise coaches. Do you find this useful? And are there specialties I haven’t thought of and that you think are missing?
If you aren’t an Agile coach is this a useful way to shed some light onto the field of Agile coaching?
Also, I’m a temporary coach working with transformations and specialise in organisational coaching with team coaching as a close second. What’s your focus?