In my view, everything and nothing is interpreted into the role of Agile Coach. The known definitions are not sufficient for me. Here is a suggestion for a better understanding. Many thanks to Alexander Lossev for the impulse and Lean Coffee Frankfurt/Karlsruhe for the feedback.
Who defines this role?
(This post has been published in German language first: https://www.teamworkblog.de/2022/08/was-macht-ein-agile-coach-definitionen_22.html)
The best known role definition probably comes from Lyssa Adkins book "Coaching Agile Teams". /1/ Lyssa later sold her Agile Coaching Institute to Accenture, so you can't easily access the page with the descriptions anymore.
|Pair Programming (Source: Wikimedia)
There is a conference paper from 2003 in which Steven Fraser, Rachel Reinitz, Jutta Eckstein, Joshua Kerievsky, Rob Mee and Mary Poppendieck present what they mean by Agile Coaching. /2/
For the purposes of this report, we define an agile coach as someone who "helps organizations, teams, and individuals adopt agile practices and methods while embedding agile values and mindsets", while also recognizing that an agile coach is more than a simple definition. It’s a career and a calling. /3/
By the way, Scrum.org and Scrum Inc. have not published a definition of an Agile Coach in their glossaries. In the lexicon of the Lean Enterprise Institute, there is an entry for Sensei, master, but no further description of that role.
The International Coaching Federation has published its understanding of the behavior of a professional coach as a standard.
What does an Agile Coach do?
The book by Lyssa Admins is a detailed description of the activities of an Agile Coach. The Scrum Alliance has turned it into an Agile Coaching Growth Wheel.
Viktoria Stray, Bakhtawar Memon and Lucas Paruch have searched for books and articles that describe the activities./4/ They summarize the following 8 areas of activity:
- Develop and train the teams
- Support stakeholders and managers to understand and apply agile methods
- Facilitate and monitor effective implementation of agile
- Understand context and metrics to adapt agile implementation to the organization
- Help in creating guidelines and setting goals and roadmaps
- Build trust among team members
- Remove bottlenecks that hinder successful teamwork
- Select a pilot project
With this list, though, I wonder where the difference is here from the work of a leader or a Scrum Master.
Lyssa makes it clear in her book that an Agile Coach, unlike a coach, is not solely concerned with the coachee's goal. An Agile Coach must always make sure that the coachee applies agile well. /1, Chapter 5/
By the way, an Agile Coach is not a psychologist or psychotherapist for me. If there are deeper conflicts, this is a case for the professionals and not for the Agile Coaches.
What am I missing in these descriptions?
I observe (e.g. at Lean Coffees, in consulting inquiries or in job ads) that some people assume a hierarchy between a Scrum Master and an Agile Coach. As if you are first a Scrum Master and later become an Agile Coach. For me, Agile Coach is another term for Scrum Master. Both have the same tasks. Both work on all levels of the organization /5/ (But everybody can see that differently).
I also miss the business or goal focus. No matter what the role is called, this person must help the people entrusted to them to achieve their business goals.
Further, I am missing a reference to regularity and structures for this activity.
Here is my extended definition for the work of an Agile Coach (Scrum Masters, Team Leaders, Leaders, Lean Practitioners, Supervisors, ...):
Agile coaching provides structures so that people in organizations get unstuck. The coach looks at the problems at hand through agile lenses. This worldview includes an appreciation for the system, "blame the process/system - not the person," and empirical work. Through frequent interactions - often asking questions - the coach helps people articulate and achieve their target conditions.
You can now ask where the special thing for agility is in this definition. Doesn't that apply to every coach? Yes, it does for me.
If for the readers of this post these points are already included in the Scrum Alliance definition above, all the better. I had to rephrase this for myself.
How much training does an Agile Coach need?
There are some providers who train Scrum Masters more broadly. (We like to work with Veraenderungskraft here.) I like that. In 5-10 modules the seminar participants dive deeper into the topics, e.g. systemic thinking, organizational development or facilitation methods.
It is important to me that we do not give the impression that you need years of training to start as a Scrum Master. The two biggest cases - Training Within Industry in the USA 1940-1945 and the application of TWI in Japan after 1950 - have shown that 2-3 courses of 10 hours each are sufficient to change the economy.
In Germany, there are approximately 45 million people in the workforce. Of these, 8.8 million count themselves among the top management of a company. There are 3.9 million managers in Germany. /6/ We cannot wait until at least 3.9 million managers have been trained in agile leadership for years. This has to happen faster if we want to improve the issues of climate change, digitalization, green energy transition, education, health, social welfare in a sustainable and socially responsible way.
Agile working makes us capable of action. We need courageous leaders who state goals for their organizations. We need employees who lend a hand. Agile coaches come along and help ensure that these goals are achieved.
- /1/ Adkins, Lyssa: Coaching Agile Teams : A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition. Boston: Addison-Wesley Professional, 2010. https://www.informit.com/store/coaching-agile-teams-a-companion-for-scrummasters-agile-9780321637703
- /2/ Fraser, Steven, et al. "Xtreme programming and agile coaching." Companion of the 18th annual ACM SIGPLAN conference on Object-oriented programming, systems, languages, and applications. 2003. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jutta-Eckstein/publication/221320965_Xtreme_programming_and_agile_coaching/links/0912f510fa0e459cab000000/Xtreme-programming-and-agile-coaching.pdf
- /3/ Scrum Alliance, Business Agility Institute, ICAgile: The 2022 State of Agile Coaching Report, https://resources.scrumalliance.org/Article/state-agile-coaching-report
- /4/ Stray, Viktoria, Bakhtawar Memon, and Lucas Paruch. "A systematic literature review on agile coaching and the role of the agile coach." International Conference on Product-Focused Software Process Improvement. Springer, Cham, 2020.
- /5/ Barry Overeem has published several posts about this on the scrum.org blog:
- Myth 8: The Scrum Master is a Junior Agile Coach, erschienen am 11.12.2017 abrufbar unter https://www.scrum.org/resources/blog/myth-8-scrum-master-junior-agile-coach
- From 50% Agile Coach to 100% Scrum Master, erschienen am 20.08.2016, abrufbar unter https://www.scrum.org/resources/blog/50-agile-coach-100-scrum-master
- /6/ Sources: brandeins, Führung in Zahlen, https://www.brandeins.de/magazine/brand-eins-wirtschaftsmagazin/2015/fuehrung/fuehrung-in-zahlen und Statista, https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1376/umfrage/anzahl-der-erwerbstaetigen-mit-wohnort-in-deutschland/