What’s it Like Being an Agile Coach?

I’ve been pouring through old posts for another purpose, and stumbled across a diary I wrote 8 years ago while working as an Agile Coach in a large organization. As I read through the posts, I realized that the experience I had at this organization shaped my coaching style, and is more-or-less the reason why I wrote Lean Change Management once I realized ‘Agile’ had very little to do with Agile.

What’s the most interesting about this series of posts is that future coaching engagements in large organizations where quite similar, and while I’m a tad (a lot?) crustier nowadays, there isn’t much I’d change about what I did back then.

At the Toronto Agile Tour last year, I ran a session called ‘How to Hire an Agile Coach‘ and what inspired it was the state of Agile Coaching at the time. I read a Linked In post titled ‘how to pass your agile coach/ScrumMaster¬†interview‘ which filled me with enough metaphorical rage to create this session. It’s bad enough that people who’ve never written a line of code or worked on an agile team are calling themselves agile coaches, but many organizations who are looking for coaches have no idea what to look for, let alone how to interview for one.

The idea of the session was to give people enough information to have a good conversation so they can align with expectations and pick the right coach.

What I realized after reading this series of posts was that there really isn’t all that much of a difference between what a good agile coach does, and a person who’s curious and generally likes helping people solve problems.¬† ¬†

Much like my How to Hire An Agile Coach Session, this series of posts isn’t for agile coaches. It’s for people who think they need a coach to read about what agile coaches do day-in-and-day-out. The patterns that stood out were:

  • I had no official ‘manager’ – The senior manager of development signed off on my hours, but that was it.
  • I was rarely at my desk – I was always out visiting teams, traveling from office to office doing training, informal chats, lunches and more.
  • My work was pull-based – I went with where the demand was.
  • I asked teams/people how it was going, what they tried, what help they wanted from me.
  • The team(s) came first…always. If we ‘broke a scrum rule’, it was for a reason.
  • I had support from my at-the-time mentor – working as a solo agile coach, royally sucks. It’s frustrating, and it’s easy to get into an agile-stick-beating mode which is also known as the fight-or-flight response your brain feels when it seems like no one gets it but you.
  • I did what felt natural – ACI’s framework didn’t exist at the time, and the ‘enterprise agile coach’ wasn’t really a thing back then so I had to rely on what felt right in the context of the 4 values and 12 principles.

It was fun to look back at this diary, so here are the posts, in order: