The growth and movement of agile is widespread. It includes plenty of certifications, some big names with strong opinions, multiple paths to be involved, and all kinds of approaches to apply it.

Through a recent conversation with my friend and colleague, Shingi Kanhukamwe, about the profession of agile coaches — it spurred the creation of this article.

Some questions that came out of that conversation…

What is an agile coach? What comes first, the agile part or the coaching part? What does the Agile Manifesto say about this? What is most effective in my more than 10 years of agile, coaching, consulting, and training experience?

What is an agile coach?

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I have written plenty on this topic since I have performing as a coach professionally for more than 10 years and have plenty of friends and colleagues in this field. Some of my articles to further this topic and your own learning include:

At the end of the day, an Agile Coach is someone that supports the work of a group, team, or leaders in their goals to deliver value to their customer by they internal or external. This is often done with plenty of courage, tact, wisdom, and agile thinking and practice.

What Comes First, The Agile Part or the Coaching Part?

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The answer to this questions seems to be most closely tied to the diversity of experience and humility of the coach. For me, the coaching part is not only mover value but it is essential to make any lasting impact on those that you are trying to help.

Newer agile coaches seems to focus much of their time (as I did years ago) on the practice of agile as their starting point. Then over time it seems to evolve to helping people get the agile thinking first. Over the last few years, I have come to realize that the coaching element (without agile at all) is most critical and valuable.

Start with getting to know the people, product/system, and the goal. Help those people gain clarity of direction as well as clarity of authority for this work. Once that has been worked out, then support the development of relationships and interactions within and without that group.

What does the Agile Manifesto say about this?

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The Agile Manifesto is the single point of cohesion that helped to define what agile is all about. It is the not be all or the end all, instead it is a document that spurred the creation and understanding of a global movement to enable joyful customers and team members.

Value #1: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” — this is quite straightforward. Get people working together to solve problems collectively. Don’t focus on the processes (be they agile or something else) and don’t focus on a specific tool (such a Kanban board, a digital project tool or something else).

Value #3: “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation” — again this is about working together. Help the team members work directly with those that they are doing the work for, and spend less focus on creating an agreement that both parties must sign.

Principle #10: “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential” — this points to choosing a simple way to start. Getting a team to identify a piece of functionality that it can deliver first is more important than teaching people about the Scrum roles or the XP practices.

I could go through more of the Agile Manifesto, but you get the point. Helping people to work together, identify clears goals, and solve problems to make their customers happy is much more important than teaching them to follow an agile framework (such as Scrum or OpenAgile) or getting them think the agile way.

What is most effective in my more than 10 years of agile, coaching, consulting, and training experience?

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The greatest thing about being an agile coach (maybe I should call it just a coach) is that you get to work with people that are trying to solve complex problems for customers that want their help (most of the time). Coaching is all about making a genuine connection with your heart and mind (yes, one’s heart must come first). I love this simple quote…

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This is absolutely true. I have worked with managers that demonstrated their deep care for me, and it made a huge difference. I have worked with fellow agile coaches that demonstrated a deep love for those that they served, and it made a significant impact on those people’s lives and work. I have had the opportunity to demonstrate my own deep care for those that I work for, work with, and serve and yes it matters, each and every time.

Some Closing Thoughts

Being an agile coach is not only tough, it is every changing. The abilities and qualities of each person who performs this function varies — this is a good thing. We don’t want this profession to become a cookie-cutter job that so many jobs before it have become. Instead it would be fantastic if we could look on this work as — empowering of others to achieve greatness”. This is my hope.

Most of my time spent in this work as an agile coach involves listening, thinking, and discussion. Very little is spent training, presenting, mentoring, or teaching. I continue to involve my thinking and acting in this work through my relationships with fellow coaches, and through my work in this field.

I hope that each of you continue to bring light and love to those around as I continue to strive in doing this each and every day.

Paul J. Heidema

Categories: coaching

Paul J. Heidema

CEO at SparkActa Inc. -- Paul J. Heidema consults, coaches and guides senior management and staff to look for possibilities to improve their results and improve their organization. He leads large-scale organizational transformations to achieve lasting results in: building a culture that supports trust and growth, leadership coaching to mentor others, organizational effectiveness in processes, and systems thinking.

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