What’s The Difference Between Agile Coaching, Agile Transformation and Business Agility?

The pressures to innovate, disrupt, build quality, and uphold customer commitments are incredible… and relentless. There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but there are many paths to achieving business agility. What’s real and what’s sustainable?

Over the years, Agile coaching, Agile transformation and business agility have been proven effective at enabling businesses to unlock the full potential of their people, their products and services, as well as their overall organizational capabilities. They continue to be more relevant and valuable in the foreseeable future. In this article, we will also show how Agile coaching, Agile transformation and business agility are interdependent while serving different purposes. Let’s break down what each of these is, how they differ, when they come into play, and how they deliver business value.

What is Agile Coaching?

Coaching is an often a misunderstood word in many industries. In the most general sense, a coach is “someone who helps a learner improve some skill or technique”. Coaching can be applied to any team, level, department, organization, or industry – Agile does not have the corner market on the word “coaching”. So, first and foremost, coaching is its own practice.

Then, there is Agile Coaching. While Agile coaching can be used as an umbrella term that can be used to address different types of people with vastly different needs, for the purpose of this post, it means Agile coaching at the individual or team level.

An Agile Coach works with people and teams to help them learn how to be more Agile. This often entails helping them understand what Agile is, where it comes from, the tools that support being and working in an Agile way, and so forth. They often provide supportive training and mentoring as well. Agile Coaches can coach one-on-one or in team interactions. The Agile Coaching Institute has created a structured and rigorous program for helping Agile coaches hone their skills and develop mastery in Agile coaching across different capabilities like facilitation, mentoring, and more.

Agile coaching is valuable in that it helps individuals and teams on their Agile journey. There’s a reason great sports teams have several coaches, many of whom are some of the best paid and highly valued: all coaches help learners – whether players or employees – to strive for more and better, and some coaches have specialties, adding deeper learning to the equation. Great coaches tap into the potential in individuals and teams, which yields business value such as:

  • Faster time to market
  • Fewer escaped defects
  • Higher individual and team morale
  • Better employee loyalty

Successful coaching is a two-way street. As much as the effective coach needs a firm grasp of how to help others improve, the coachee needs to understand how to be coached and they have to want to change on a personal level. The synergy between the two is what enables the person being coached to grow and outperform themselves.

It isn’t enough, however. Coaching isn’t the only activity that needs to happen to enable an organization to thrive today. If sustained change and improvement through Agile mindsets and methods across an organization is the goal, Agile transformation is the means.

What is Agile Transformation?

Transformation impacts the strategic capabilities of the organization – it means the organization no longer acts the way it used to and there is no way to go back to old ways. Agile transformation employs new organizational structures, new ways of allocating funds and strategizing your portfolio(s), changes in culture, and more in order to deliver real value to customers, faster.

This is more than implementing a new process in the organization; leaders cannot relegate it to subordinates – or even a group of expert Agile coaches. It requires vision, communication, and systemic change management. Agile transformation focuses on changing the environment of an organization. Much like a scrum master identifies impediments to delivering customer value at the team level, Agile transformation necessarily reveals impediments to delivering organization-wide value to both internal and external customers.

It’s not an easy venture, and few organizations apply the necessary rigor, but those who do reap benefits like:

  • Fewer failed initiatives due to more product delivery predictability
  • Better allocation of funds, people and resources
  • Happy customers because products address real (rather than imagined) problems

Becoming Agile in an organization is sometimes seen merely as an installation: you buy the product, plug it in and wait for it to work its magic. That’s not how it works. Agile transformation often requires a change in the company culture because, when you change the environment of a company, culture changes as a result. This change enables the Agile organization to rise to today’s challenges and excel in thrilling customers rapidly. Even this, however, is not enough to address the challenges of tomorrow and to ensure that your organization isn’t outwitted by more innovative competitors who are not afraid of disrupting themselves and existing markets. The fight to remain relevant and profitable in the future is already well underway, and business agility is the foundation upon which the Agile organization can build a stronghold.

What is Business Agility?

In a predictable, less volatile world, where markets were stable for decades and customers were happy to buy whatever you put in front of them, Agile transformation might have been enough. But volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity all but guarantee that the market environment will continuously shift. It isn’t enough to be a good company with good products anymore. Leading businesses – Agile or otherwise – must innovate and deliver more effectively than ever. Organizations must bring people and environments together into one dynamic system.

When predictability is low, adaptability is key, enterprises must become holistic learning organizations. Where complexity severely limits your line of sight, you must use your other senses: send out feelers that report back what they encounter, gather feedback from users – and competitors – and then turn the input into action. Data is key, but only insofar as they enable critical insights into market trends, user delight and competitor movement. Operating on just enough information, with just enough flexibility and speed, you can innovate market disruptions that favor your organization, whether it’s a new product line or completely new business model.

Business agility enables organizations to sense and respond to continually changing market needs, adapt internal structures and workflows rapidly to seize new opportunities, and deliver innovative products and services that thrill users. All this requires leaders with keen perspective who lead with a clarity of vision and empower everyone in the organization to act when the moment presents itself. Fast-turnaround experiments can be expanded upon for optimal learning – and learning is the name of the game.

The learning organization epitomizes business agility, yielding value like:

  • Effectively using technology to deliver innovations previously unimaginable
  • Disrupting existing markets – your own and others – to create new “blue ocean” markets where you have first-mover advantage
  • Developing a mature learning capability as an organization, to keep pace with continual technological advances

Agile organizations now look to business agility to build on what they have already become and for what they still need to strive for, so they can continue to innovate, deliver, and lead in ways that execute against their vision, mission and values. As a result, a successful business agility transformation usually means radical change to how people work, and how the company operates.

Putting it All Together

What Agile team coaching, Agile transformation and business agility all have in common is that they each focus on learning and developing new skills. The difference is the scale, therefore scaling the outcomes. In a lab, you might be able to achieve business agility without Agile coaching or Agile transformation, but in the wild, they are inextricable. People are the wild card – people and all their passion, experience, hopes, fears, knowledge and imperfections are what power the business of the future. It is each business’ responsibility to ensure that their people have the support to grow, change, and fail fast to learn faster. Industry-proven and well-established methods cannot guarantee success. And in a way, the days of guaranteeing success are behind us. Instead, we must focus on learning and acting as quickly as possible, with just enough data and insights, driven and connected by a unified, human-centric vision of the future.


Ready to Learn More?

With business agility, organizations can outlearn and outperform their competition. They can become learning organizations that improve continuously, their success fueled by passionate, empowered employees. For more information and resources about business agility, keeping reading…

What is Business Agility? >