Agile development · Arguing · Capability growth · Observations

Extending the coaching agreement – when is an agile coach not an agile coach?

I was talking to some experienced agile people and we started to discuss “agile coaching.”

We agreed that it was a great idea and that everyone should have an agile coach. But then we realised that we did not mean the same thing when we said “coach.”

We did agree on some things, like being able to identify an evil agile coach.  But we were a little misaligned on what a good coach is meant to actually do.

So let’s assume you are a good agile coach, or want to hire one.  Do you actually know what you mean by “Agile coach.”

In this article I will go through some of the things that people might see as an “agile coach” that I see as “not actually an agile coach.”

The next article will cover what I think an agile coach actually does and how to ensure that is aligned to the coaching agreement that you would hopefully have in place.

Lets agree on how people can engage a coach

To start with, let’s agree what happens when someone wants to engage a coach.

The coach and the person who wants some coaching get together for a cup of coffee or tea.  They discuss what they think is needed and often the coach then does some “discovery” to learn what is really needed in more detail.

Then the coach and the client create a coaching contract to make sure the have the same expectations of the coaching gig.  You can review how that might happen by following this link:

How to create the coaching agreement

My agile friends and I were reasonably well aligned so far.  Then we started to discuss what a coach should do once they are engaged.

One person said that they are a role model, but I said that everyone experienced in agile should be able to be a role model. That does not mean they are an agile coach.  Then we had an argument about whether being a role model is either sufficient or necessary when you are a coach.

Someone said that the coach needed deep agile experience and an agile mindset.  But I claimed that inexperienced people could coach and that sometimes coaching is not to do with agile mindsets. This seemed to cause some angst and passionate discussion.

So my friends politely explained to me that my views appeared to warrant correction. I will discuss my views more in the next article so you can decide.

But coming back to the theme of this article, we then had a discussion that led to agreeing, at least, on what a coach is not and does not do.

I have included that here so you can see if you agree.

Lets agree on what a good coach is NOT

In order to define what we mean by “Agile Coach,” I turned to turned to the collective wisdom of the crowd – I googled it.  This was easy but not as helpful as I had hoped:

horseIn fact that was no help at all.  Neither my friends nor I were talking about a horse and carriage that is surprisingly quick and easy of movement.

I could ask my clients just in case, but I am pretty confident that they do not want a horse and carriage:

Client:   I’d like to hire an agile coach – can you help me?

Me:         Do you mean you would like a horse and carriage that is surprisingly quick and easy of movement?

Client:    Err … no.  Actually I want someone to help my team become agile.

So I tried a different tack.  It is hard to find a clear definition of a really bad agile coach, but I found one.

bad agile coachAgain, I am confident that my clients are not really looking for a really bad agile coach. But where does that leave us?

Client:   I’d like to hire an agile coach, can you help me?

Me:      Sure – are you looking for a really bad agile coach?

Client:   Err … no.  We are still trying to clear out the last infestation.  I was hoping for a good coach.

Me:        Oh – that is a bit harder.

So we still need a useful definition of what to expect from a good agile coach.

Lets see if we can agree on some basics

Rather than using google, I fell back on my understanding of the English language.

I am an agile coach

We will start with the sentence “I am an agile coach.”  Let’s break that sentence down into very basic concepts and see where it gets us.

I am an agile coach – which means that I help people with being agile.

But whom am I helping with what, specifically?

Similarly, how am I helping them?

The web seemed full of information on this and there are even some decent looking certifications.  But it all got hard when I tried to come up with a single correct answer.

So I put the basic sentence up on a wall and looked at what each part of the sentence could mean.

My friends seemed to agree with the following diagram, so I thought I was on the right track

(Note that one person told me to change “I help” to “I coach” but you can’t really get agreement from agile coaches unless you are agreeing to attack what someone else said, so I took their response as mostly agreeing).

coaching type

What I like about this approach is that it allows me to define coaching in terms of someone being coached.  I can’t see how you can be an agile coach unless someone is getting some coaching.

Now, if we are helping someone, we should be able to say what we are helping them with. For example, you could say:

  • I am facilitating the technical practices for a team; or
  • I am mentoring a particular scrum master in the 8 fold path of agility the running of the agile ceremonies so that they can facilitate better outcomes with the team.

Things were looking good until we tried to apply this simple model to some of us were doing.  So that is the topic of my next article – what does an agile coach actually do?

I guess I have given the answer away now, but I will expand on things a little more next time.


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