I am an Agile Coach, and I'm often asked about the role that Agile Coaches play in an organization. On the most basic level, Agile Coaches help teams and organizations embrace Agile and help maximize the delivery of business value from development. We use terms like "enable" and "facilitate" to describe how we help organizations and teams transform. But what does an Agile Coach actually do? Well, it's a variable mix of activities that includes: consulting, cajoling, training, arbitration, and mentoring.
Coaches sometimes act as consultants. A consultant will actively involve him or herself in the game. Sometimes an Agile Coach will have to actively participate in performing a task or activity so that the team can see the technique in action.
Coaches cajole, with gentle urging or coaxing, the team or organization to change behaviors that don’t live up to Agile principles and values. In many cases, this cajoling is underscored by the war stories a Coach can deliver about the trials and tribulations that will ensue if certain behaviors are not corrected. The experiential base is important for the Coach to be able to hold the moral (metaphorically speaking) high ground needed to persuade the team or organization.
Coaches deliver training. Training comes in many shapes and sizes. Coaches will be able to deliver training on a just-in-time or ad-hoc basis based on their own observations of how work is being done. The goal of ad-hoc training is to ensure that the team or teams understand how to apply specific techniques as they are applying them. I liken this to a form of just-in-time training, which leverages a principle from adult learning that holds that adults retain knowledge better when it can be immediately applied. This does not exclude leading and organizing training as part of the more formal organizational change program.
Coaches arbitrate conflicts and difficult decisions. Projects, whether to transform whole organizations or to implement a set of simple user reports, always include the need to make decisions. Coaches help organizations make decisions so that they can move forward with a minimal loss of inertia. Facilitation for an Agile organization is a skill that is part art and part science – think emotive negotiation (or as a friend of mine calls it “family counseling for teams”). The best Coaches teach the team or organizations they are working with these skills.
Coaches mentor. A mentor is a trusted counselor who provides guidance, advice, and training, usually at an intimate (one-on-one) level. A mentor needs to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned into the needs of the mentee, so that the transfer of guidance is safe and efficient.
So, when we say that an Agile Coach enables and facilitates, what that really means is that they consult, cajole, train, arbitrate, and mentor. The art of being a good Coach is knowing what mix of these activities is appropriate for any specific situation. And, as many readers probably are aware, a good Agile Coach can make or break an Agile transformation.
VP of Consulting & Agile Practice Lead