So you don’t need an Agile Coach?

I see and hear it all the time: “Who needs an Agile Coach?”. Well, maybe you don’t – but most enterprises do. I cannot tell you how often I hear the groans and whimpers of new Agile teams trying to figure it all out on there own. Maybe they picked up a couple of XP books and decided to go solo. Or maybe a couple of folks went and spent their two days becoming ScrumMasters and now felt that the designation provided the knowledge and skill to fundamentally change the way their organization and team delivers projects. Perhaps someone high up attended a conference and couldn’t wait to dive into the Agile frenzy. They don’t all fail. Some teams emerge as success story. But more often than not, those teams that attempt to adopt agile without the help of an experienced coach are destined to suffer pitfall after pitfall; misstep after misstep; mistake after mistake. And yes – very many of them do fail.

So what can a coach do for you? I’ve sometime heard a coach being branded the “Agile Police” or someone who is little more than a meeting facilitator or “pom-pom waiver”. This is not an Agile Coach by my definition. An Agile Coach is someone whose primary responsibility is to ramp-up a team or a program with the necessary education of principles and practices in the shortest possible time so that the team may begin deliver product as quickly as possible. New teams cannot adopt all the Agile practices overnight – it simply isn’t feasibly. So where should the team start? There is no magical Agile cookbook or adoption recipe. Each team is different. Each project is different. Each product is different. The Agile Coach must possess the experience and know-how to assess the environment, define a baseline of practices, and mentor the team to adopt and mature into the Agile principles so as to equip it for long-term success and independence.

The Agile Coach is the agent of change. Effective change cannot happen through will or desire alone. The Coach functions as the Agile Evangelist constantly seeking ways support the agile enablement effort. This is not a job for the weak or the timid. The coach must continuously drive towards ever-increasing agile maturity. The coach must continue to challenge the team to constantly seek ways to improve itself. To constantly find way to empower itself. And to constantly strive to deliver value.

Large enterprises typically pose the biggest challenge to Agile adoption. Typically these companies have existed for eons; their processes deeply rooted; and their cultures highly allergic to change. It is hard enough for a highly experienced Agile coach to successfully enable Agile teams. Trying to go it alone – without extensive agile experience – is near impossible. Worst of all, when these efforts do fail, blame is always affixed on the Agile Process. Never is the responsibility placed on the method by which Agile was tackled. In many organizations, even a single failure on a single Agile project may set back Agile adoption for years. There are good reasons for teachers and educators. Those same reasons are true for Agile Coaches.