Sunday, March 6, 2011

What is an Agile coach, really? (Part 1)

This past Thursday night Lyssa Adkins spoke on the topic of being an Agile coach at the APLN DC chapter meeting. Lyssa is widely known as a coach of coaches and is the author of the popular Agile coaching book, Coaching Agile Teams. Having heard her speak several times, I really like the energy she brings to her sessions, her positive vibes, her experience, and the coaching expertise that she applies to her talks.

Lyssa explaining the path to being an Agile Coach (picture courtesy of Manoj Vadakkan)
The session presented clarity on what an Agile Coach is and does and how that differs from that of a consultant or even a ScrumMaster.

Below are some of my notes and takeaways from the session.

Agile Coaches are detached from the outcome
An Agile coach has a certain amount of detachment from the outcome.  I believe Lyssa's point is whatever happens is what was meant to happen.  As a consultant coming into client as a Agile Coach, there can be a certain amount of healthy detachment that allows for clarity in perspective and approach. One issue I raised is that as an employee to a company and working as an internal Agile coach or ScrumMaster, it becomes harder to detach yourself from the outcome.

Agile Coaches take it to the team
Many times as "experts" and consultants, we feel we have the right answers.  However, as an Agile Coach we are there to guide the team towards their own answers. Questions were raised throughout the night on specific client issues and it was interesting to hear Lyssa answer with, "As a consultant, I would tell the client to do the following....".
Overall, I definitely agree with Lyssa here, if a team comes up with their own solutions and own that solution, they are more vested in its outcome and this ultimately helps the the learn and grow (which brings us to the next point).

Agile Coaches work to help the team learn
The goal of the Agile Coach is not to solve a problem for the team (or client), but it is to help the team learn and grow.

Agile Coaches holds up mirror on accountability
Agile Coaches help the clients understand themselves and how they are related to what is going on around them. Self awareness and realization helps the client create the answers that are right for them.

Agile Coaches master their face
This one is interesting.  As an Agile Coach, we need to be aware of our body language, such as our facial expressions. When clients come up with something that visibly makes the coach happy (or sad), this can affect the client's decisions. What the coach wants is the client to do what they feel is right, not what they feel will make the coach happy.

Let there be silence
I like this one. When there is awkward silence during meetings and discussions,often the expert/coach is tempted to break the silence with the thought of keeping the meeting moving or to generate ideas. However, it's that awkward silence where the team thinks about the hard questions and often step up with incredible solutions.

This ends the first half of my notes, more tomorrow on Part 2 of my notes where we talk about:
  • Being outrageous
  • Letting the team fail
  • Doing and being
  • and more .....

Local DC Agilists enjoying Lyssa's session (photo courtesy of Manoj Vadakkan)


  1. This was a great event. I was among the three lucky individuals who got free copies for Lyssa Adkins's book.

    I really liked the session. It is geared towards those with traditional PM knowledge/experience who are moving into becoming Agile coaches. I must say that some other 'settings' may not be applicable and would require the coach to play some of the traditional PM role

  2. Hey man! Where's part 2? :D

    Thanks for this post, some good info. I bought the book on the strength of this post.

  3. Great post. Not the only reason
    Agile may fail, I think, but certainly one of the key challenges for the
    Agile community to fess up to and face up to.

    I wrote about some other challenges in my recent "State of Agile" post here

  4. I already bought the book because it was suggested after I ordered "Liftoff: Launching agile teams and projects" by Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies. Diana and I are both Human Systems Dynamics professionals and the book supports the HSD theory. I really like what I have seen of Lyssa's work. As a coach, I think I will find it a very useful tool and different from others I have used. As an HSD professional, her work may be useful in directing how I use our tools. Thanks for your comments.

  5. Thanks . That was good information. I had a question - given all the buzz around Scrum (my company has started adopting it in a big way with almost all projects having stand ups, whiteboards coming up everywhere etc.), do you think it is a good idea to get a certification in Scrum?

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