06 Mar 2023
A lot of people assume that as soon as you have a couple of years’ experience as a scrum master, working on a single team or multiple teams, you are automatically an agile coach.
This isn’t true.
Despite it not being true, a great number of scrum masters with a couple of years’ experience will amend their resumé to reflect their title to agile coach to take advantage of higher day rates for agile coaches within the industry.
Unfortunately, we haven’t evolved enough as an industry to have the kind of regulation in place that insists on relevant skills, certification, and experience to be deemed a competent agile coach.
They don’t have the necessary coaching skills, experience, or relevant qualifications to coach anyone, let alone teams of agile teams, and so they have no business in coaching whatsoever.
An agile coach has a significant amount of experience as an agile practitioner, but also have the skills, expertise, and experience associated with coaching. Ideally, they would have done dual certification too.
As a professional coach, and all the good things associated with professional coaching, and as a professional agile coach, with the finer filters associated with coaching teams in agile environments and product development environments.
It would be fair to say that an agile practitioner, such as a scrum master or product owner, with multiple years’ experience in a scrum or agile environment could be an agile consultant.
Someone in this category could be referred to as an agile consultant because they could positively contribute to team performance based on their knowledge, skills, and degree of competence.
But they are not an agile coach.
Sure, they have enough of a foundation to begin their agile coaching journey, and should invest in professional coaching qualifications as well as agile coaching qualifications, but they are not yet in a position to be recognized as an agile coach.
Coaching people to a great outcome is very different to demonstrating what needs to be done, assessing the team’s performance as they perform the work, and correct their actions in alignment with the agile practices, tools, and processes that best fit their application.
That is consulting. That isn’t coaching.
So, in summary:
An agile consultant will use their expertise to advise or guide their client to an improved way of learning and delivery. That’s agile consulting.
Agile coaching is a stance we take, as a scrum master or a product owner or an agile coach, where you collaborate with your client to achieve the outcomes and objectives that matter most to that client.
By objectively asking questions, interrogating why things happen the way they do, and inviting the client or team to reflect on what has been learned, they find the answer to the most compelling problems and questions unique to their environment.
Partnership rather than consulting.
The lines often get blurred in client environments because sometimes, the client doesn’t have the necessary knowledge, tools, or capabilities to discover the answers through questioning and reflection.
In some cases, clients may use the agile terminologies and phrases common to the industry but use them incorrectly or fail to understand the true meaning of those words, concepts, and practices.
They actively need someone to teach them or provide the agile consulting necessary for them to progress.
I once worked on an agile coaching engagement with a client in the medical / healthcare industry and we were having a conversation between the project manager, the lead engineer, and myself.
They kept referencing the term sprint in the conversation.
To me - as a professional scrum trainer - a sprint is a time box within which the team will have created or produced a working increment. In software engineering, that would mean that they produce a working piece of software for the customer to review within the set time box.
The other people on the call were referring to a sprint as a two-week phase of the product lifecycle.
In other words, a discovery sprint, an analysis sprint, a design sprint, a production sprint, a test sprint, and so forth.
Scrum doesn’t make these distinctions at all. Each of these elements is part of the sprint to ensure that a working piece of software is usable and deliverable to a client. It needs to include design, production, testing, and so forth within each sprint (usually 2 to 4 weeks).
So, in the context of this client environment, a sprint lasted approximately 3 to 4 months rather than the Scrum Guide’s recommendation of 1 to 4 weeks.
This kind of confusion and misunderstanding permeates so many of the client environments I have worked with, and so agile coaching is a lot more complex than rocking up and asking questions with the idea that the team are capable of generating valuable answers or solutions.
Agile coaching would be inappropriate if the client:
And so forth.
So, in many cases you would need to be able to shift into a teaching stance. You would need to shift into an agile consulting stance. You would need to shift into a mentoring stance.
A skilled, effective agile coach can do that effortlessly and effectively, and when the team are sufficiently ready for coaching and agile coaching, transition back into that agile coach stance.
So, in my experience, these are the complexities of being a great agile coach and that person would also need to maintain their knowledge, skills, and capabilities by being a respected, active coach and consultant within the agile industry.
Someone who learns a great deal, contributes a great deal, and practices a great deal.
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