2 Rules of being an #Agile #Coach

I see that many times people talk about being an Agile Coach, but I fear they are leaving out some very important facts on what a successful coach is. The comparison to a sports coach is very easy. Both coaches are working with teams and also in a very dynamic and fluid situation. The definition of a coach from Wikipedia is:

“Coaching is a teaching, training or development process via which an individual is supported while achieving a specific personal or professional result or goal.”

What are you coaching?

I guess the crux of the question is what are you coaching? Are you coaching someone in the Agile Processes or are you coaching someone in how Agile processes can increase the likelihood of success for a project? The difference may appear to be slight, but there are a myriad of factors underneath the subtle differences.

I believe it is easier and of less value to coach the Agile practices. These standard practices can be gathered from many articles and books out there. The more difficult aspect of being an Agile Coach is coaching the team to “win” the project game.

To “win” the project game, I believe a project team must accomplish the following:

1) The client must be 100% satisfied with the solution

2) The team must have enjoyed the project and felt a feeling of fun and accomplishment.

3) The trust between the team and the client must have at least tripled on a project. (you can pick whatever number you like, but I feel the increase in trust must be significant)

2 Rules of being an Agile Coach

1) There can not be multiple “Oh Well” moments

Sometimes Agile projects propose that we will not provide an estimate and just work on items according to the client’s priorities. While this is good work if you can find it, it certainly does not prevent the “Oh Well, I need more money” moment. It also does not build up trust be between the project team and the client. If anything, repeated incidents like this will diminish the level of trust and may force the client into a more traditional approach. Agile teams must remember that even if we operate it an Agile manner, the clients need to request budget in a very traditional manner. When we have an “Oh Well, I need more money” moment, it makes the client look bad in their traditional environment. You get one, maybe two, “Oh Well” moments on a project before you are back in WBS hell…

So what can we as Agile Coaches do with the uncertainty we face?

2) There must be a holistic plan and a solution vision

It is only my opinion, but I believe that an Agile Coach must, must, must have a vision for what the plan is and what the solution will look like. He or she can then help to guide the team as issues arise. Now this isn’t to say that they can override the team, but they do need to remind the team when an issue looks to be compromising a major project objective or constraint. The Agile Coach has the responsibility to ensure that the project doesn’t just happen, but rather he or she helps the project to achieve what was intended. Most importantly, the Agile Coach must raise issues to the client while there are still multiple options. If the Agile Coach only raises an issue when there is only one solution, get more budget, the trust level will start to take a nosedive. Agile Coaches must remember that the client sets priorities on all project activities – including solution options.

Included in this rule is the fact that the Agile Coach must be very aware of the S-Word. Schedule. 🙂

Part of having a holistic plan is having a preliminary schedule. If you do not have a preliminary schedule, you likely will not be able to raise issues early enough so that the client has multiple options. Having a preliminary schedule allows you to be very aware when iterations start to consistently be late and can compromise the project objectives.

Remember it is all about building trust and ensuring the client has multiple options when an issue is presented. It is all about building trust every week on the project.

Proper Coaching Definition

I really, really like this definition…

“A professional partnership between a qualified coach and an individual or team that supports the achievement of extra-ordinary results, based on goals set by the team “


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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