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Does my company need an Agile coach?

04 Jul 2018

The days of Agile software development and project management being a novelty are definitely behind us.

In fact, Agile has become the norm.

With more than 70% of organizations reporting using Agile for their projects at least sometimes, it has simply become the way things are done.

That being said, things are far from perfect and many organizations are still struggling to become truly Agile and reap all the benefits of taking this approach. Many of them hire Agile coaches to help them with this and even more are looking into doing the same.

But, how do you know if your company needs an Agile coach? How do you find a good one? These are just some of the questions we will be tackling in this article.

What does an Agile coach do?

In order to be able to decide whether your company needs an Agile coach, it is necessary to understand what their job entails.

The Scrum Guide does not mention Agile or Scrum coaches, nor does the Agile Manifesto. In such a situation, Scrum Alliance is usually a good place to turn to, considering their standing in the Scrum and Agile communities. The Scrum Alliance actually recognizes two different types of coaches - the Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach and the Certified Team Coach.

While they differ in the scope of their coaching, the basic idea is the same - a coach as a person with extensive, in-depth knowledge of Scrum theory and practice, reinforced by copious experience in assisting organizations and teams in the adoption of Scrum.

You will agree this is a good starting point.

Agile coach and team

That being said, it should be pointed out that Agile coaches will do different kinds of work in different organizations.

For instance, an Agile coach might be brought on to oversee a pilot project within a larger organization, coaching a team or two and focusing on supporting inexperienced Scrum Masters and Product Owners.

Another Agile coach might be brought in to work on a more organizational level, implementing a company-wide strategy and coaching the C-suite.

In some parts of the world, Agile will be tied in with another formalized approach such as Prince2, for example, and the Agile coach will need to be able to clear up the confusion that will almost inevitably arise in such situations. 

Sometimes, a coach will be hired by a small company which is struggling to stay fully Agile as it grows.

Agile coach vs Agile consultant

We should also make a distinction between an Agile coach and an Agile consultant here. As opposed to Agile coaches who are more people-oriented and who work together with other members of the organization to guide them to good decisions, Agile consultants provide concrete solutions for concrete situations and have a more tactical role.

Now that we have cleared up what Agile coaches do, let’s find out if your company needs one.

How big is your company?

One of the first considerations when thinking about hiring an Agile coach is the size of your company.

For example, a company with under 10 people which will operate as a single team will probably be able to handle the transitional period without a coach. With dedication, continuous learning and adaptation, such a company should be able to adopt Agile on its own and refine it in time.

In a larger company with established hierarchies, processes and other structures, adopting Agile can be challenging and an experienced, knowledgeable Agile coach will be of huge help. In fact, it is actually a common practice for such large organizations to hire a number of Agile coaches who will coach different teams and key decision-makers within the company.

Of course, it is theoretically possible for even the largest companies to do well without Agile coaches, but in reality, they are often a necessity.

Software Development Office

What is your situation?

The nature of your Agile circumstances will also play a big role in deciding whether to hire an Agile coach. While in some situations, the teams and the companies will be able to overcome difficulties, there are also those which warrant specialized help.

For instance, your large company might have started a pilot Agile project where a team or two are adopting Agile and where their success will determine if the company will go organization-wide Agile. Maybe you are already trying to find an online Scrum software to help you take this initiative company-wide? Perhaps you are looking into agile release management?

In such situations, an Agile coach can be of immense help, even if there are experienced agilists in those teams. Namely, as newly appointed Scrum Masters and (to a lesser extent) Product Owners are getting acquainted with their new roles and making sure the teams are performing well, they might need an external ally of sorts.

The Agile coach will assist them in communication with external stakeholders who will most likely have limited (if any) knowledge of Scrum and Agile and even less patience. In other words, the Agile coach will take on the organization-level responsibilities of the Scrum Master.

Another situation in which your company will benefit from the services of an Agile coach is a company-wide Agile adoption process where you are tearing the entire organization down and building it up again the Agile way. These are excruciatingly difficult to do right and they often require an entire team of coaches to guide the organizations through the process.

Even smaller companies can benefit from the services of an experienced Agile coach. For instance, a smaller, one-team company might adopt Agile only to find out that, months later, they are still not seeing the benefits of doing so. They may be struggling to deliver incrementally; the team might feel that they are not collaborating enough, or they might find themselves practicing the so-called ScrumBut behaviors.

Woman putting story on board

It is only natural for such companies to wish to do something about this and an Agile coach might just be what the doctor prescribed. This is especially true if the company unsuccessfully tried to address the issues on its own.

How involved are your people?

At the core of every successful Agile story are people who are involved and engaged. Changing your practices and systems and introducing the best Agile tools in the world will be completely pointless if your people are not on board or if they just do Agile because someone told them to.

Even the tiniest company with a single team cannot be fully Agile unless the people are involved and only go through the motions. The reasons for this are many.

Maybe they experienced bad Agile in the past. Maybe it was explained poorly to them. Maybe Agile challenges their sense of hierarchy. Maybe they are just disinterested. Maybe they see their job as no more than a regular paycheck.

Once again, this is a situation when an Agile coach may be the one to provide added education and clarification on certain things that may be hindering the team. A coach can also inspire conversations that will bring such a team closer to real Agile and help them truly benefit from it.

In large companies, the situation is usually more complex. This is especially true for situations where Agile is being introduced or practiced company-wide. The mere fact that so many people are involved means that not everyone will be absolutely excited about Agile. The problems arise when these people hold managerial or even executive positions.

In any case, an Agile coach or an entire team can mitigate these issues to an extent, approaching the right people with the right facts, ideas and conversations. Great coaches know how to approach different people in large organizations and get them engaged.

Team handshake

How to find a great Agile coach?

It goes without saying that your experience with an Agile coach will depend on how good they are at what they do. Unfortunately, the situation is such that the quality of Agile coaches varies dramatically. Trust us, we are not being dramatic with our use of the word ‘dramatically’ here.

There is a number of reasons as to why there are so many subpar or at least less-than-stellar Agile coaches out there.

For one, the demand for Agile coaches outstrips the supply by a great deal and people rush into Agile coaching without learning enough or getting enough experience. In addition to this, a great Agile coach will need to know how to coach, which is not nearly as easy as some people think. Finally, while there are a number of organizations that provide certifications for Agile coaches, they are not extremely rigorous and their certifications do not guarantee that someone is a great Agile coach.

This article and the discussion in the comments cover this more in-depth.

Do not get us wrong, there are some great Agile coaches out there with proven track records and plenty of satisfied clients. It’s just that it can be difficult to find them.

What this means is that you have to be extremely careful and do due diligence before you hire someone. Ideally, you will get in touch with someone from another company who has had a positive experience with a particular Agile coach and they will be able to recommend someone. If not, you can do some online research and then check their references to make sure they will be able to help you.

One reminder - when deciding on an Agile coach, keep in mind that just because they helped a small company adopt Agile it does not mean they will be able to handle a massive corporate Agile transformation. Or vice versa.

As we mentioned, there are different situations and not all coaches will be good at everything.

Closing Word

Hiring an Agile coach can be a great investment for a company of any size, depending on the situation. Of course, it is important to remember that not all Agile coaches will work for you and your company.

Assess your situation. Do your research.

If you need just a little push and a new Scrum knowledge source, sign up for the free online Scrum course VivifyScrum EDU. It will help you with Scrum implementation within your team or company.


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