One of the more popular titles out there is “Agile Coach” and prove of that is the number of job seekers that have it listed in her/his profile, but then there is a much smaller number of people that know what this implies and the qualifications of a good coach.
In Toyota a coach was a mentor that knew the different types of work so well that can teach others and even replace workers. Further, a coach needs to return frequently to the gamba to work and stay real and by doing this keep improving her/his technical skills [Ohno13].
From a different school of thought comes the notion that a “professional coach” doesn’t need to know the business domain in order to do an effective coaching intervention. This school of thought focuses in polishing coaching skills applicable to any context.
My personally postulate is that a Scrum Master must align with a coaching school or approach that allow her/him to know three facets: the work, the human and herself/himself.
Respecting the Client’s Agenda
A coach should prioritize the client’s agenda over hers/his, this means that the client’s problems, concerns, ideas and opinions take precedence over the coach’s [Kimsey11]. If the client is wrong, at least from the coach point of view, the job of the coach is help the client discover why she/he might be wrong and start exploring alternatives.
I’ve encountered situations in which and Agile Coach or several of them got hired to transform an organization and they star by telling team members that everything they’ve been doing is plainly wrong, that they did Agile wrong. This approach not only generates resistance from the coachees but also contradicts the principle of respecting the client’s agenda.
Furthermore, what stated above might create the illusion that there is only one good way to be Agile and the the Agile Coach holds the keys for true agility. Of course this is just illusion and even contradicts the agile principles that promotes discovery, experimentation and respect for humans.
I’ve observed that in many cases the Agile Coaches became the new version of the managers obsessed to get results at all cost, this maybe happened because organizations paid coaches for results and misunderstood Agile as a management tool good for getting faster results by putting extra pressure on people.
Even if the client’s agenda might be about going faster, increasing productivity and get 110% of each team member; the coach’s job will be remain neutral and help the client discover other options for getting the result following different paths or even better helping the organization to better define its systemic goals.
Neutrality would also need to be present when the teams want to focus on technical work that not necessarily contributes value or keep insisting in using inefficient engineering practices; again the idea is that the coach shouldn’t tell people that there’re wrong but help them instead discover that they could be others better ways to work.
Coaching stances are diferente operating modes for a coach, depending of the coachee and the situation the coach will need to change from one stance to another.
Lyssa Adkins [Adkins10] identified the following stances:
- Coach as a Mentor
- Coach as a Facilitador
- Coach as a Teacher
- Coach as a Problem Solver
- Coach as a Conflict Navigator
- Coach as a Collaboration Conductor
Each of these stances has its own characteristics that need to be know and master by a true Agile Coach.
Logically a coach has talents and personal preferences that will make her/him gravitate more towards one stance but that is no excuse for not knowing, practicing and being proficient in all stances.
In fact, a skillful Agile Coach will be able to naturally switch stances depending of the situation and the context.
There are several professional coaching organizations that have identified and developed several techniques for one-on-on coaching, team coaching and even organizational coaching. Personally I consider that is a good thing to first have abroad knowledge of the discipline of coaching and then specializing and excelling in a few things.
Some of my favorite coaching techniques are listed below:
- Active Listening
- Powerful Questions
Beyond those techniques I think that their effectiveness is directly correlated to the degree of self-awareness that the Agile Coach has been able to developed.
Coaching is an exiting field and has many applications in an agile team where individuals need to interacted frequently and effectively. Thus is expected that the demand for Agile Coaches tend to rise in the coming years as Agile will keep getting more and more traction.
Nevertheless, embarking in the Agile Coach journey requires a lot of personal commitment and self discipline for first learning about yourself and then about coaching.
As Lao Tzu said it “Know yourself and you will win all battles”.
Ohno13 Ohno T., 2013. Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management, McGraw Hill
Kimsey11 Kinsey-House H., Kinsey-House K., Sandahl P., Whitworth L., 2011. Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives, Nicholas Brealey; 3rd edition
Adkins10 Adkins L., Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition, Addison-Wesley Professional