The term Agile Coach is used differently in different contexts. Here we would like to explain what the term means to us.
An agile coach is for us a person who helps organizations become adaptable and self-learning. The result of the work of an agile coach is, on the one hand, changed processes in an organization, and on the other hand, an organization that independently changes its processes as needed. The processes are “only” an externally observable aspect of the change. As a rule, the lived values, beliefs, abilities and knowledge of the individuals in the now self-learning organization have also changed in the cooperation.
Agile coach vs. Management consultant
Agile coaching is well demarcated from traditional strategic consulting. An advisor typically solves a task for his client and gives him a solution. A coach helps a client learn how to solve his own task. Both services are valuable in different contexts.
Our context is typically the structure with which work is done in an organization. These include above all roles, responsibilities, meetings and interim results of individuals and groups. In this context, coaching is, in our view, the most sensible and sustainable approach. After all, only the customer can take responsibility for their own long-term process.
This makes it impossible for an outsider to suggest the “right” solution. Much more important than the “right” solution for the one moment is the continuous adaptation of the processes to changing needs. In all organizations known to us the circumstances change significantly on a monthly, weekly and sometimes daily basis. A proposal for processes, even if it is the best solution today, is therefore quickly outdated. And so it is most sustainable when an organization learns to ensure its own process changes that they serve their own long-term success.
What does the term “agile” mean?
What is meant by the adjective “agile” or agile in this context? The word agile is rarely used in the German language, just like the word “agile” in the English language. It helps to look at the genesis to better understand what was meant then. In 2001, in Snowbird, Utah, where the Agile Manifesto was written and the term “Agile Software Development” was used for the first time, there were several other terms to choose from. Among other things, they were adaptive (adaptive) and flexible (flexible).
According to Craig Larman, “adaptive” almost won the election. Only one of the participants – Jim Highsmith – had a framework that was called “Adaptive Software Development“ and he had a company called that, but it was important to find a word that contained all the tools and approaches (Scrum, Extreme Programming, Crystal, Clean Code and more).
Agile means that the development work is flexible and adaptive to the changing environment. An agile coach is someone who helps a company to make the organization more flexible and adaptive.
What do we do as agile coaches?
Reflect or mirror
A coach observes and reflects on his client such observations that can help him become more aware. In an agile context, this ability needs practical experience in many different organizations. This not only helps to understand the principles behind agility in theory, but also to recognize their (non-) application in reality and to communicate what they have seen appreciatively. Reflection is a continuous part of agile coaching. The beginning of a collaboration usually provides the opportunity for an explicit time of observation and reflection. On the one hand, this generates a lot of value and at the same time helps the coach and the organization get to know each other and define possible further steps. We call this Shoulder View (or Agile Assessment).
When helpful to the client, an Agile Coach takes on the role of the trainer to interactively convey content. Some typical topics of such training are Agility, Product Owner , Scrum Master , Communication or Scrum in large organizations.
Coaching in organizational design and structure
In large organizations, the factor – organizational structure – determines adaptivity more than any other factor. Organizational structure here means hierarchies, role and team definitions and related responsibility structures, salary structures and incentive systems, budget planning processes etc.
In small organizations, possible dysfunctions that arise due to an inexplicable structure can be quickly resolved in face-to-face conversations. After all, most employees still know each other and there is a personal informal connection between the various levels of hierarchy. That changes with the size of the organization.
Here an Agile Coach helps his client:
- to understand the impact of current organizational design on the client’s goals
- consciously setting goals
- to think through possible changes of the organizational design and to design it as an experiment
- to carry out these experiments and to learn from them
In this way, a learning cycle arises at the management level in relation to the changes in the organizational structure and their impact.
Sometimes it is valuable for our clients to be mentors or role models for a limited time. As a role model, for example, we are moderating a first retrospective to give a new Scrum Master a vivid impression of how to present a retrospective. If desired, we also provide suggestions if necessary to open up new options for clients. The decision to try an option remains with the client at any time.
For example, we act as mentors when we observe a person at work and then present and discuss concrete suggestions for improvement with her. This role makes sense especially at the beginning of a collaboration and should take a back seat in the course of an agile transition.
Finding solutions, communicating clearly, making common decisions are often challenges in organizations. It will not be easier for those who are in a change. We help experienced facilitators to quickly solve difficult and complicated problems in groups.
Especially at the beginning of an agile transition, it is not uncommon for management to want to make various decisions in workshops to set up the beginning action.
Agile Coach or Scrum Master
Scrum has an explicit role for an agile coach. This is called Scrum Master in this framework. We wrote in a very detailed blog post about the Scrum Master . There you will find descriptions of the various characteristics, abilities and activities of a Scrum Master and will be explained plastically with typical examples from working life. Everything written there also applies to an Agile Coach.
Today, we often observe that scrum masters are often referred to as people who work directly with one or a few development teams. Agile coaches are then referred to as their more experienced colleagues who work with the management, give training, etc. Of course, it is understandable that more sensitive tasks are taken over by more experienced colleagues. Basically, the work with the management also belongs to the role of Scrum Masters. And a great Scrum Master knows much more than just Scrum.
Scrum Coach or Agile Coach
For us, the term Scrum Coach therefore means an Agile Coach who specializes in introducing and supporting organizations in Scrum. Just like a good Scrum Master, this person should not just limit their knowledge to Scrum. Typically, a Scrum Coach also advises a company on organizational design, since the introduction of Scrum almost always goes hand in hand with a change in the organizational structure.