What makes a Good Agile Coach?

By Ram Krishnan

This is one of the most common questions from the agile community whether it is leaders championing agile transformation or a wannabe agile coaches aspiring to up their game, so sharing some thoughts from my experience over many years as an agile coach and practitioner.

To me any one aspiring to Phil Jackson Agile coaching should be able to weave the MAGIC of agile as follows 

M – Motivate the Team

A – Adapt to the Ecosystem aspiring to be agile

G– Grow the team – Aptitude and Attitude

I – Involve actively with the metamorphism of the agile teams

C – Collaborate 

M – Motivate the team

  • An agile coach should learn to be a friend, philosopher and guide to the teams being coached.
  • Share positive feedback on the team’s accomplishments and provide constructive feedback for areas of improvement.
  • Allay the team’s fear of the unknown by helping them draw upon their acquired skills from non-agile methodologies that are transferable to agile methodology as well – such as team chemistry and domain expertise.
  • Encourage the team to take calculated risk as a team and take accountability for setbacks 
  • Foster the habits of relentless improvement and help the team leverage their collective wisdom over individual brainpower.

A-Adapt to the ecosystem

  • The coach needs to be able to adapt to the team’s context and level of agile maturity quickly.
  • Adaptability needs great deal of awareness and as a coach it helps to be active in agile meet-ups and professional communities (like LinkedIn) to gain insights to multiple sectors (banking, Insurance) and challenges faced in agile transformation efforts that builds one’s own awareness.
  • Some of the key elements of the ecosystem the coach needs to adapt to include
    • Team member personalities 
    • Team skill sets (cross-functional vs deep expertise in siloes)
    • Team composition (Distributed vs Dispersed)
      • Distributed – Teams are in multiple geographic locations but together as a team
      • Dispersed – A single team has members from multiple geographic locations
    • The organization of team
      • Vendor vs In-house vs Hybrid (both vendor and in-house).
  • The culture of the organization and the drivers for agile adoption.
  • The history of the agile adoption efforts in the organization and pain points.

G-Grow the Team – Aptitude and Attitude

  • The coach should be focused on helping the team get better with their agile skills and this needs the coach to be well experienced and qualified with relevant agile credentials and rich experience leading and coaching agile teams.
  • The coach needs to empower the team mentally by instilling the following values
    • Commitment
    •  courage,
    •  focus, 
    • openness 
    •  respect.
  • Grow the team through the stages of storming, forming, norming and performing to be a self-organizing high-performing agile team.

I-Involve actively with the metamorphism of agility

  • Every team transforms into agile butterflies with active involvement from the coach over the stages of growth.
  • Protect the team from fears of failure and gently guide them to incremental progress towards being agile teams.
  • Be actively involved with the team during the agile ceremonies helping to get the best out of these events to further the agile learnings
  • Roll-up the sleeves and work with the teams as needed to solve problems or removing any impediments to agile growth.
  • Involve with the rest of the ecosystem to showcase the agile growth of the team

C-Collaborate with one and all

  • The coach needs to lead by example on the importance of collaboration to the teams being coached
    • The coach collaborates with peer coaches and stakeholders.
    • The coach collaborates with the teams in working through the many challenges faced during the agile transformation.
  • The coach needs to help the team understand that collaboration is an art and not a science by
    • Teaching the team collaborative traits such as
      • Trust within the team
      • Clear communication 
      • Working agreements and policies 
      • Transparency
      • Empathy than sympathy
      • Collective wisdom over individual mastery 
    • Teaching the importance of collaborative mindset in conflict-resolution.

The above-mentioned points are not exhaustive but reflections on my own growth and learning as an agile coach and I would suggest all to use these as starters and build upon one’s own unique brand leveraging life lessons that differ from person to person.