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Agile Coach... What Do You Do??




While I was mingling at the last client conference, I got the dreaded question… “What is an Agile Coach? Exactly what do you do?”


This role is often not known outside of Software Development and honestly, it’s not fully understood even within organizations who have them. Let’s break down the core components of what an Agile Coach drives and how organizations can really benefit from having this role.


Agile methodology has become an increasingly popular approach for organizations who are looking to stay competitive and deliver value to their customers faster. Despite the good intentions of an organization looking to be “agile”, often inconsistent agile practices, too much work in progress, and an inability to make decisions prevent teams from moving fast. This is where an Agile Coach comes in to help solve these challenges.


An Agile Coach is an experienced facilitator who helps teams and stakeholders align and work better together, as well as someone who can identify where processes are misaligned with their core objectives. At its core, an Agile Coach helps set teams up for success by facilitating conversations with leaders to define clear expectations, and establishing the right mechanisms for accountability and decision making. An Agile Coach is the person who actually leads Agile transformation within an organization, helping to build a culture of agility and ensures that the organization is aligned with Agile principles. If you are not familiar with the Agile Principles behind the manifesto they are the following:


1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. 2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. 3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. 4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. 5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. 6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

7. Working software is the primary measure of progress. 8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. 9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. 10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential. 11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. 12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.


But what exactly does an agile coach do? In the following paragraphs, I will break down three core aspects of what a coach drives. No matter what company an agile coach is working in, they are fundamentally looking to do these three things.

  1. Storytelling, organizing and thin slicing

  2. Guidance on agile methodologies (Scrum, Kanban and Lean)

  3. Coaching for leaders on how to be lean and how to lead their teams


Product storytelling, organizing, and thin slicing.

Thin slicing is essentially breaking down features into small, testable pieces that can be delivered quickly.Teams can struggle to thin slice their work and often struggle to map how these slices will benefit the customer. An agile coach can teach the team how to use thin slicing to get feedback from customers early in the development process, teach the team how to validate their assumptions, and how to identify issues before they become major problems. There are other Agile techniques, such as quick and continuous feedback and continuous integration that helps validate the product will meet customer needs earlier in the development process. This as well as the practice of continuous delivery, which means to deliver small increments of functionality frequently, also help ensure that the product is delivered in a timely and efficient manner, ultimately leading to a better product and happier customers.


Guidance on agile methodologies

The second key thing an Agile Coach does is provide guidance on Agile methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban, and Lean. They help teams understand the principles and values of Agile and how to apply them in their work. This helps to ensure that Agile is implemented consistently across the enterprise. Once implemented, being able to see that progress utilizing metrics such as flow, increased velocity or throughput can help the team continuously improve.


Coaching for leaders on how to be lean and how to lead their teams

The third and perhaps most important thing an Agile Coach does is mentor leaders to help them understand the benefits of Agile and how to lead teams effectively. Leaders play a critical role in the success of Agile at the enterprise level. An Agile Coach helps leaders and stakeholders understand the importance of accountability and decision making. They also coach leaders to define clear roles and responsibilities ensuring that everyone is aligned and working towards common goals. By building a culture of agility across the organization, the Agile Coach helps to set the organization up for long-term success.


Now that we’ve established the role of an Agile Coach and why it is a critical component of any organization that is looking to adopt Agile methodology, we need an elevator pitch:


“An Agile Coach creates high performing teams by helping the team, stakeholders, and processes align, providing guidance on Agile methodologies and principles, and mentoring leaders to build a culture of agility”


Bringing in an Agile Coach is one of the best ways to set an organization up for success, as long as it is committed to be a fast paced, aligned and accountable culture.


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