1st Conference 2015 – Evoking Excellence Through Agile Coaching

The presentation I delivered last year at  1st Conference 2015 titled “Evoking Excellence Through Agile Coaching” is available on Slideshare.


Training to become an Agile Coach?

[Edited: Updated links 28 Feb 2011]

Today I received an interesting question – “What training is there to develop agile coaches as output of the training?”

The goal of an Agile coach is grow a productive Agile team that thinks for itself rather than relying on someone to prescribe the way to do things. Showing people how to be Agile isn’t enough. They need to change how they work and how they think in order for Agile to stick. A coach helps people to unlearn old habits and break the old mental models we are so use to before so people can work effectively as members of an Agile Team. As an Agile Coach, you must guide people through rough patches until they can find their own way.

The Agile Coach is also a mentor. They support engagements in exploring, adopting and optimizing Agile principles and practices. The Agile Coach mentors Scrum Teams and ScrumMasters, and coaches Product Owners. They help develop and sustain a simple measurement system for the Team performance and help teams and stakeholders to define and experiment with various countermeasures to the impediments uncovered in the work process. An an Agile Coach you may also need to develop customized training materials and deliver training for Management, Executives, product owners and other team members (business analysts, developers, testers, etc.).

To be a good Agile Coach you must have experienced the pain of working on Agile engagements. I think an Agile Coach is a natural progression by someone who has many years as an Agile practitioner and has the right mindset, lean thinking and then having the ability to help teams so they become better.

I think my past experiences have made me into a better coach and I certainly would not feel that I would perform my role properly as an Agile Coach without that experience.

There are definitely some good resources to become a better coach, but I wouldn’t think you could have a training program that turns someone who hasn’t experienced Agile into a Coach (well a good one anyways). Using an analogy – many sports coach (eg tennis, basketball, football) have had experience playing and studying their sport before imparting their knowledge to their protégé.

Here are some good related links on Agile Coaching that I have come across:

You might also want to check out Lyssa Adkins’ book, Coaching Agile Teams, which I am reading now.  I will post a book review when I am done.

The issue with Scrum Certifications

Ron Jeffries has posted a nice article on CSM Certification Thoughts containing several excellent diagrams describing some of the forces that are in play when it comes to Scrum certifications (or any other Agile certification for that matter).

There are both positive and negative opinions of CSM Certification in the industry.  In my view, a ‘certification’ for completing a course is questionable and misleading.  If anything, its a ‘Certificate of Course Completion’ . Importantly, CSM Certification does not demonstrate an individual’s experience and skill with Agile and definitely is not reflective of an individual’s mindset  for Agile.

But let’s face it, as individuals we love our certifications as it provides some sort of achievement and recognition.  But attending a 2 day training course does not turn you into an expert.

The Agile Alliance position on certification is clear

[…] employers should have confidence only in certifications that are skill-based and difficult to achieve. […] Certifications such as Certified Scrum Master and DSDM Foundation are knowledge-based and easy to achieve. […] The position of Agile Alliance remains firmly that employers should not require certification of employees and that skill needs to be acquired by practice on agile projects not by training alone.

Ron’s article highlights that the core benefit of CSM certification is that you will have ‘CSM-Trained People’, however, this does not guarantee success as illustrated by his diagrams.

I think CSM Certifcation courses are one means to achieve the goal of training individuals and providing minimum competence.  I have attended both a CSM and CSPO class and believe the courses are well put together and are educational.  However, translating this knowledge into practice is a much more daunting task.  I think one of the main challenges with Scrum is that there is no standard or ‘best-practice’.  There are many different ways Scrum and Agile methods can be applied.  After all Scrum is just a framework within which things happen, and its up to the  innovation and intelligence of the team to fill in the gaps.

Speaking from experience, I agree with Ron’s comment that

Troubled projects do generate some demand for coaching

As an Agile Coach I have been called on many times to help troubled projects.  Most of these projects didn’t have the right fundamental training and/or coaching required.  Ongoing training and engaging an experienced Agile coach is necessary to ensure effective adoption of Agile.  I have been down some dark holes in my IT career, but I have learned a lot over the years which has enabled me to be a better Agile consultant and coach so I can help teams and organizations with their Agile journey.   Even with 6 years of Agile experience, I am still continuously learning.

For Scrum success, what is more important than ‘certifications’ is that organisations are committed to Agile, provides the environment, training and the culture for Agile to flourish.

There is no ‘Best Practice’ in Agile

Joe Townsend has written an article along the lines what I have been saying for a while now – in Agile there is no ‘best practice’, and as Townsend puts it

What works for you, your team, division, corporation, etc. can bring another person, team, etc. to a screeching halt.

In particular, one needs to be very careful when trying to take waterfall best practices and trying to apply it to an agile context. Many of waterfall concepts and best practices are counter-productive and ineffective on agile projects.

Its only semantics, but the term ‘best practice’ often means this is the best way to do things and trumps all other approaches. I prefer the use the words ‘lesson learned’ or ‘guidance’. What one or more teams have done, should be used as a lesson learned that is to be adapted to the environment you are applying it to and used as guidance.  No practice will work for everyone or every team in every context.

Before applying a lesson learned or guidance, you should ask yourself does it make sense and does it align with agile values and principles? Does it help me deliver software more quickly to my customers? Does it help with achieving technical excellence? Remember to discuss with the team before using any lesson learned or guidance.

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