If you are in the tech world, you have probably had an interaction with an Agile Coach or any other agilist at some point of your career. Your experience is somewhere in a range from "Agile Coaches are annoying and useless" to "Agile Coaches are great partners and make things better". I have worked with more than 25 Agile Coaches so far in four different countries and can honestly admit - we are different. In this article, I’ll explain where the differences come from and why it leads to people having inconsistent experiences.
No formal path to Agile Coaching
Let’s say you want to become a software engineer. There is a very specific path and skills to gain if you want to get a job. There are university degrees for that. In the field of Agile Coaching you can learn the theory, but it might not work if you misread the context of the working environment or people. You can also take a 3-day course and become a certified Agile Coach. Crazy, right?
How people become Agile Coaches?
There are three main paths how people become Agile Coaches: transition, progression and transformation.
Transition. For example, some Product Managers, Engineering Managers or HR people gain relevant skills in organising ways of working, team performance, product development and with some extra training move to focusing on that full time as Agile Coaches.
Progression. It’s typically moving from Scrum Master to Agile Coach role. Disclaimer: I don’t think that Agile Coach role is somehow greater than Scrum Master. For the Scrum Masters out there, don’t get offended. This perspective is based on my experience seeing many Scrum Masters transitioning to Agile Coaches and considering that as career progression (including myself).
Transformation. This path is common when big organisations run their Agile transformations and grow their internal staff to Agile Coaches through 6 months or so learning programme. Then these Agile Coaches ensure that the post-transformation ways of working run well and evolve.
None of these paths are good or bad, they’re just different. Except one, (not mentioned above) - people changing their Linkedin title with little relevant experience.
Personality and style
Agile Coach is a role that mostly achieves impact through influence, not authority. If I had to choose more traditional role title I would go with Change Manager, in a broader sense. It's about taking people through constant positive change in ways of working, product development and value creation.
Personality and soft skills are crucial for this role. Agile Coaches can be the most knowledgable people in the room, but their success will depend on how good they are in onboarding others and drawing picture of a better future state. Every Agile Coach has their unique style approaching situations and dealing with change.
Exposure to different environments
The most important skill for Agile Coaches is the ability to read the context and adapt. The logic is simple, the more exposure Agile Coaches have had to different environments before, the greater are the chances that the tactics they choose will make an impact. Lack of exposure to different contexts might lead to a default approach called "I did this in my previous company". It will work sometimes, but it has limitations.
There are some good Agile Coaches out there. When looking for one, do a test round if their style and previous experience fits what you need and your organisational context.
When I was at Typeform, we balanced our different strengths together with Jaume Durany, Oriol Boix and others. During my time in New Zealand with Nomad8, we looked at which of the Agile Coaches would fit the client's context best to achieve the greatest impact. Even now, at one of the Lithuanian unicorns Vinted I get to work with Agile Coaches who have different styles, strengths and super powers.
Choosing a suitable Agile Coach for your context can be tricky. Don't give up if it didn't worked in the first try.
Categories: Agile Coaching.