Agile coaching models

Agile in IT Service desk
September 23, 2021

Agile coaching is about supporting a company success with Value, Speed and Quality . There are few agile coaching models and perceptions. Here are some of them.

What is an Agile coach and how do I become one?

–  James Smart

What is an agile coach?

An Agile coach helps teams and individuals adopt Agile practices and methods in their work. The goal of an Agile coach is to make a team more efficient, transparent and cohesive, and to enable better outcomes, solutions and products/services.

Selecting the right tools and methods is important whatever your role, though the Agile coach has to be like a good bartender and know how to mix them together to create a perfect combination tailored to the organization.  The role of an Agile coach includes discovering the organizational goals of both teams and individuals, identifying the method/s that will help in their journey, and teaching these practices.

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    Why do you need an Agile coach?

    • Ensuring there is alignment between strategy and development
    • Delivering products and services that your customers want
    • Making fast, critical decisions to avoid common failure patterns
    • Improving progress visibility
    • Ensuring better quality
    • Increasing collaboration and ownership

    The participants all agreed that while there is value in the items on the right, they place greater value on the items on the left:

    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    • Working software over comprehensive documentation
    • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
    • Responding to change over following a plan

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    Agile Coaching

    – Andrea Della Corte

    • Agile-Lean Practitioner: Ability to learn and deeply understand Agile frameworks and Lean principles, not only at the level of practices, but also at the level of the principles and values.
    • Professional Coaching: Ability to act as a coach, with the client’s interest determining the direction, rather than the coach’s expertise or opinion.
    • Facilitating: Neutral process holder that guides the individual’s, team’s, or organization’s process of discovery.
    • Mentoring: Ability to impart one’s experience, knowledge and guidance to help grow another in the same or similar knowledge domains.
    • Teaching: Ability to offer the right knowledge, at the right time, taught in the right way, so that individuals, teams and organizations metabolize the knowledge for their best benefit.
    • Technical Mastery: Ability to get your hands dirty architecting, designing, coding, test engineering, or performing some other technical practice, with a focus on promoting technical craftsmanship through example and teaching-by-doing.
    • Business Mastery: Ability to apply business strategy and management frameworks to employ agile as a competitive business advantage such as Lean Start-Up, product innovation techniques, and other techniques that relate to innovating in the business domain.
    • Transformation Mastery: Ability to facilitate, catalyze and lead organizational change and transformation.

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    Using this Model

    • With this model on hand, coaches can analyse organisational, projects and people challenges, issues and capability growth opportunities and discuss which one should be tackled in the future.

    Problem Solving

    • Let’s say you’re faced with a particularly prickly issue in your company.
    • The framework can help you determine which coaching element applies best to the context, based on the root cause, and which coach has the greatest strength in that area.
    • That coach (or coaches!) is then empowered to plan and remedy and / or support the issue at hand.

    What are the responsibilities of an agile coach?

    –  James Smart

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    What does an Agile coach do?

    Catalyzing   improvement – Using Agile methods means changing your organization’s processes and responding to future changes better.

    Promoting   awareness – To kickstart changes, a coach has to make a team aware of the need for change and create buy-in across the organization.

    Boosting   ownership- Awareness increases responsibility and commitment to finding a solution and helps staff be a part of the change they want to see.

    Developing   competencies- Creating a collaborative learning environment and promoting emergent learning cultures are the key to sustain an Agile approach long.

    Facilitating   barrier   removal- As a company transforms into an Agile organization, the process can face numerous barriers and challenges.

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    –  Keystepstosuccess

    What are your main objectives, as an organizational and agile coach? What are you planning to accomplish, while engaging with us?“.

    Objectives For Agile Coaches:

    Organizational “Laloux Color”: from Orange to Green

    The main characteristics of Orange organization are pretense of clearly defined goals to beat competition and to achieve profit and growth. Here, innovation is the key for staying ahead, and management is performed by meeting objectives, with managers “commanding and controlling its employees on “what“, while giving liberty on deciding “how” to workers.

    The main characteristics of Green organization are focus on improving organizational culture by empowering employees and helping them develop high intrinsic motivation. Click here to see an example.

    Organizational Tribal Stage: from Stage 3 to Stage 4

    Tribal Stage 3 – is being characterized by employees operating in clusters and attempting to outperform each other and beat each other to get a bigger reward. At this stage, everyone is striving for dominance; individuals express behaviors of “lone warriors” with organizational culture reminding “wild, wild west.”
    Tribal Stage 4 – is being characterized by employees forming structures called triads. At this stage, individuals, express tribal pride, mutual support, collective thinking, team work and shared ownership. Click here to see an example.

    Organizational Structure:  from Silos to Transparency

    Here, the main objective of a coach is to help senior management bring down walls that separate different parts of the same organization, in order to increase transparency and improve communication. Organizational silos are a problem that is not specific to technology departments only. Lack of transparency, poor communication, distortion of information as it flows through multiple organizational layers – is what describes many organizational departments, especially of large companies. Click here to see an example.

    Leadership: from Command & Control to Enable-ment

    Here, the main objective of a coach is to help senior management promote culture of Servant  Leadership, in pace of Command & Control. This may require de-centralization of power and empowerment of lower layers of organizational pyramid.  In order to develop agile culture, senior management needs to provide enough autonomy and sovereignty to organizational layers, that get work done. Click here to see an example.

    Optimization: from Local Focus to Global/System Focus

    In System Thinking chapter of Large Scale Scrum, Local Optimization paradox is described very well by C. Larman and B. Vodde: “Everyone is doing their best yet overall systems throughput is degrading. How can that be?” This is the paradox of local optimization —when a person or departmental decision maker optimizes for the local view or self-interest. The party making the decision frequently believes they are making the best decision , but because ‘best’ is a local optimization. Click here to see an example.

    Teaming: from Component Teams to Feature Teams

    The main characteristic of Component Team is high concentration of expertise in a specific product component, with very little or no expertise in other product components. Therefore, a component team can work only on “one flavor” of tasks and its deliverable rarely presents a complete and clear business value to customers. As a result of this situation, component teams ‘locally optimize’ themselves to stay busy and work on component-specific items that have much lower business priority. Click here to see an example.

    Workforce: from single-specialists to T-shaped workers

    Here, the objective is to harvest T-shaped/cross-functional experts that can wear multiple hats (e.g. developer, tester, architect), on demand. The letter “T” is used to describe expertise of such individuals, with vertical line of the letter, representing depth of primary knowledge and horizontal line of the letter, representing breadth of secondary knowledge.  In contrast, “I-shaped” individuals have only primary knowledge but no secondary knowledge. Why is this so important? In order to build efficient, cross-functional feature teams that can operate independently and work through an entire stack of system components. Click here to see an example.

    Measuring Performance: from Individual to Team-based

    The main objective of a coach is to make senior organisational leadership fully comprehend a strong correlation between various elements of organizational an ecosystem that are typically viewed as independent. Individual performance measurement is one of very critical elements of an ecosystem and very often becomes its center-piece, as it defines behaviors of employees. Directly related to individual performance measurements, are promotions and performance-driven monetary rewards that define and get defined by employees’ goals, values and behaviors. Click here to see an example.

    Value Measurement: from “Check Marks” to ROWE

    This topic is of particular significance for organizations, where a lot of emphasis is made on “check marks and score cards” used to measure accomplishments by individuals and teams. These are mainly large organizations, where production Cycle Time between initial idea and its practical implementation is long.  In such organizations, true results  are possible to measure only when a product actually comes to a market place. But since it does not happen frequently, organizations introduce interim measurements of value and success, mainly for reporting and book-keeping purposes. Click here to see an example.

    Agility @ Scale: from Complicating to De-Scaling

    It is not uncommon to see internal agile champions seeking scaling solutions that conveniently support existing organisational structures and require little organizational re-design. Frequently, complex agile frameworks are preferred because of their “unpack and install” capabilities. Such frameworks seamlessly fit over an existing organizational design and dont really challenge anyone’s status-quo, don’t call for dramatic changes and dont expose existing dysfunctions. Click here to see an example.

    Agile Coach – A person of many hats

    –  usefulchange

    An Agile Coach wears many hats: Coach; Teacher; Mentor; Consultant are 4 hats that stands out to me!  This picture is about wearing the “Coach” hat.

    My Role as Coach:

    I AM:

    • Not your leader
    • Not your boss
    • Not your decision maker
    • Not your cheerleader

    I WILL:

    • Guide you and give you feedback
    • Suggest things for you to try or test
    • Hold up the mirror
    • Challenge you, maybe even call you out.

    I NEED:

    • Your trust
    • Your permission

    Coaching Arc of Conversation

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    The Agile Coaching DNA

    –  Manoel Pimentel

    It is possible to see different styles and flavours in doing Agile Coaching, which is good because diversity is important in our industry; however, the most dangerous part is the massive number of strange job announcements, asking for Agile Coaches, that I have seen over there.

    The DNA for Agile Coaching

    Agile Coaching is an approach to foster an organisation shift to improve the work, the behaviours, and the outcomes in the context of the development of solutions/products. It is not only about adopt framework X or Y. Agile Coaching is about how to enable people to respond more quickly, with less risk, and more qualitatively for business opportunities.

    To provide this enablement, Agile Coaches can work on five elements (see the image above): Catalyse Improvement, Promote Awareness, Boost Ownership, Develop Competencies, and Facilitate Barrier Removal.

    How to evolve with this DNA

    I’ve synthesised those elements into this model to serve as a compass to drive the behaviours and outcomes for my work as an Agile Coach. I always need to evolve this DNA. I need to add more practices and elements according to the environment of the company or the team. You’ll need to make the same thing in your context. You can create an infinite number of genetic combinations with this DNA.

    Heart of Agile

    The Heart of Agile (HoA) is another interesting model for what areas can an Agile Coach lean into when faced with an issue. To describe this learning and application journey, the HoA uses the Shu-ha-ri model, a Japanese martial art concept, which describes the stages a student progresses through three levels:

    • Shu (obey): a student learns the basics from their teacher;
    • Ha (digress): students may choose to digress from doing what they are told;
    • Ri (separate): they don’t follow techniques as moves are now natural.

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    Personal Development

    The framework can help an agile coach reflect on their capabilities. There are many different ways that the wheel could be used in a coaching conversation, but it could go something like this:

    • Talk through each of the competency areas. Maybe for each area roughly score yourself on a scale of 1 to 5
    • Some people will sell themselves short, others will overestimate their competence, your job as a coach is to try and hold them accountable to a true representation of themselves, ask for examples and be curious;
    • Use the insight generated in the reflection to brainstorm options for growth and then formulate a plan of action.

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    What is the difference between an Agile coach and a scrum master?

    Agile coaches and scrum masters aren’t rivals. These roles complement each other and can both be instrumental in delivering organizational change and growth. The key difference in how these roles operate is in scope, with some overlap.

    A scrum master typically focuses on a single team or at a maximum 2 or 3. Scrum masters will help ensure that the team lives and breathes Agile processes outlined by the Agile coach and in accordance with the company vision.

    An Agile coach will work with many teams either directly or through management personnel. Because of this, they can’t develop the same level of personal relationships with employees as a scrum master, though they have a larger degree of oversight and organizational ownership of the Agile process. They work with the managers to increase the overall agility of a number of teams and across an entire organization.

    An Agile coach has a few common specialties:

    • Technical coaches: Technical coaches work closely with developers and typically have experience with coding and integration since they’re necessary skills when working with any development team
    • Process/management coaches: Process or management coaches focus more on establishing leadership for Agile teams and overseeing successful adoption of the Agile method
    • Non-directive coaches: Non-directive coaches offer individualized support for people or organizations looking to solve specific Agile-related problems.

    How do I become an Agile coach?

    • First, you need to understand deeply what Agile is all about. Starting with the Agile manifesto, you not only need to understand it, but stick to its values in the work you do.
    • Secondly, you need to familiarize yourself with the frameworks. Currently, Scrum is the most popular, but it is not enough to know only this method. It is recommended to read up on lean, kanban, extreme programming, crystal, DSDM, and FDD at least on a basic level. Knowing about them however is not going to be enough, you need to have experience in at least one more area.
    • Thirdly you need to become a part of the Agile community. Look for meetups, conferences, read blogs, comment on forums etc. While developing your skills is essential, being a recognized and contributing member of the Agile community is also hugely important.


    • Agile Coaching – Andrea Della Corte
    • What is an Agile coach and how do I become one? – James Smart
    • Top-10 Objectives for Agile Coaches – Keystepstosuccess
    • Agile Coach – A person of many hats – usefulchange
    • The Agile Coaching DNA – Manoel Pimentel

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