Photo courtesy of Institute for Sustainability
Several people I respect have written recently on the subject of Agile coaching. The question they all pose is ‘who should be your coach?’
The next question is: who should be coached for Agile?
Coach your managers, with their teams
Once management has hired the best coaches they can, it’s easy to believe that Agile adoption has been taken-care of. Everything should happen smoothly and quickly, and go according to plan.
In practice, as the team’s understanding of their process gets better, the gaps between team and management, or team and budget-holders, or developers and QA become clearer to see. This can actually reinforce underlying issues of ‘them and us’.
It’s like when your neighbour decides to repaint the outside of his house, and it looks terrific, but makes yours look bad. Yours is the same house you know and love, theirs just got upgraded, is all.
For this reason, we prefer to coach teams and their managers and leaders. The more holistic the learning, the more effective it is.
Under the title Agile needs Coaching, Ben Linders says that organisations that are not able to coach from within, are the ones who benefit most from hiring an external coach. He wants coaches to establish a culture where people help each other.
In other words, you should use external coaches until your internal resources are strong enough to take-over. I’ve used that successfully myself. Plus it’s easy for the business to measure the success of their external coach – the quicker they make themselves redundant, the better they are!
As an aside to that, Rachel Davies, author of Agile Coaching commented on her own surprise at having held the same coaching role for three years! Reflecting on it, she attributed it to the rate of expansion of the company and the degree to which they challenge themselves to improve.
“Being coached is more important than having a coach. Change doesn’t need coaches, it needs coaching.” Ben Linders
I also endorse Ben’s notion of ‘coachee pull’ for interventions. Part-time coaching can remove the constant pressure of having to live-up to what you think your coach wants and gives people the space to try stuff out, then talk about the experience afterwards. That’s a complete learning cycle, where real value is ingrained retrospectively. We learn best once the pressure of the task has passed.
Dan Tousignant asserts that “Anybody with a passion for learning and sharing can be a coach. As with leaders, coaches can emerge from within a team.”
However, Chuck Cobb distinguishes between team-level and enterprise-level coaching. He highlights the assumption that what’s good for the development process is not necessarily good for the whole business. I recall making a similar point in the post Agile was Designed for Developers not Management.
“The company’s overall culture and business strategy needs to be optimized around whatever the critical success factors are for the business that they are in.” Chuck Cobb
It takes a breadth of business management experience as well as development experience to carry-out an Agile transformation. That’s not the job of a single person, it’s a collaborative effort and it’s best done incrementally.
So let's adopt Agile, agilely!