What is an agile coach?

Think about your favourite sports team – or person. They will have a coach. In fact, many successful business people and politicians do too. Coaching is a profession that is more complex than it looks, but provides huge value when done well.

Coaches generally share a few things in common.

  • They are experienced practitioners.
  • They don’t seek personal glory.
  • They provide emotional support.
  • They push to find the better way.
  • They encourage and frequently challenge their customers making them the best they can be.

An agile coach is all of the above, but generally works within a digital business supporting individuals, teams and sometimes the whole company to seek excellence. They call out the obvious problems and support working through them. They deal with personality disputes and manage conflict resolution. They also provide process and behaviour guidance, helping eliminate waste and focus on delivery.

What does an agile coach do day to day?

Agile coaches use their industry experience in many ways – most often when helping implement tools, techniques, frameworks and practices surrounding product and delivery. Examples of this include:

  • Helping a team estimate and forecast better.
  • Helping a product owner manage the expectations of stakeholders better.
  • Showing how to run better retrospectives.
  • Guiding the leadership team.
  • Making sure stand-ups don’t go stale.
  • Working to include non-it colleagues in the agile journey.
  • Maintaining rigour and discipline – keeping standards high.
  • Focussing on continuous improvement
  • Career development.
  • Supporting HR in managing people.

What attributes to look out for in a good agile coach.

Agile coaches are unusual as they can often have no set targets or deadlines, specific accountability or ownership of anything. For this reason, they need to have high personal integrity. Beware – there are many agile coaches that are attracted to the role as they think it’s an easy life with no responsibility – steer well clear of this!

You’ll know your coach is doing a good job if they politely but firmly challenge, push, engage, question, motivate, enthuse and hold people to account. Often great agile coaches have an interest in behavioural science, psychology of teams and are great readers of emotion – being fascinated in people. They are highly motivated and keep calm in high-pressure environments, helping others succeed and being satisfied when they do.

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