What is Agile Coaching?

Posted by on Jan 8, 2012 in Agile & Lean, Coaching, Conference, Linchpin | 12 Comments

AgileCoachCamp Norway
AgileCoachCamp Norway

Professional Coaching

The AgileCoachCamp Norway 2012, which I’m currently attending, was opened by an inspiring session with an ICF coaching trainer, Jan Georg Kristiansen from Erickson Coaching Nordic AS in Norway.

He gave us a definition of ICF coaching as a 100% client-focused conversation, and we decided to have an Open Space session to take his definition as a starting point to define our shared understanding of Agile Coaching.

Engagement

Agile coaching is a 100% client-focused engagement which enables continuous improvement, because the client owns aligned goals and purpose across organisational levels and the people doing the work define the steps towards those.

Minimum Required Skills

An Agile Coach needs to have

  • a deep understanding of Agile & Lean, which includes Systems Thinking,
  • coaching skills, the awareness to know when to coach, mentor, and teach and how to switch hats,
  • servant leadership,
  • good facilitation skills.

Optional, but not mandatory skills include coding, training, management experience, … We collected this list in a session hosted by Rachel Davies:

Agile Coaching Skills 1/2
Agile Coaching Skills 1/2
Agile Coaching Skills 2/2
Agile Coaching Skills 2/2

Guiding Principles

An Agile Coach focuses on improving the client’s business, avoiding local suboptimisations and challenging assumptions on all levels.

An Agile Coach ensures congruence between Agile and Lean values and principles, the goals of the people she works with and the people who pay her.

An Agile Coach makes herself dispensable as quickly as possible.

An Agile Coach is committed to her own personal growth and continuous improvement of her skills. To guide her on that path, she should have a personal coach.

Thank you, Michael Leber and Andrea Chiou, for suggesting the second principle!

Please add more comments!.

12 Comments

  1. Michael Leber
    January 8, 2012

    Hi Olaf,

    I totally like your approach you found as a group at #accn. Only slight different opinion from my side about the wording of the last sentence (the Guiding Principle) .. “indispensable … as quickly as possbile”. And this is not because of possible interest to increase revenue as an Agile Coach.

    However, as systemic coach I do see it similar, that I am like a “soundbox” for the client, whom I support / accompany on her way towards clearly identifying and finally achieving her objectives. The aligned switch of roles related to the situation are important, although challenging to achieve as a single person – for being able to switching hats we have to gain the needed trusted relationship with the client.

    But when switching to / from “teacher” this might be a true obstacle. So I doubt about the term “teacher” (comparable to “consultant”) as soon as you enteret the coaching role at a specific client. I better like the ‘servant leader’ approach, comparable to “trusted advisor”

    I also think escorting the client should be limited in time (maybe in terms of sessions). But I don’t see the need for a hurry, which is expressed by the phrase. Being invited and making it to the heart of the system, the coach starts playing a role – one which is needed at the given time in the given situation. Then you accompany the client on their road as long as they feel they need you for seeing things differently in terms of their solution, approaching things in better ways, achieving their true objectives …

    But we know, true things come up during the journey, sometimes totally different from the intial assignment. In the end, when you helped them learning how to fish, it’s time for leaving … no need for hurry and … once you might be back.

    Anyway, what I would add to the text would be the requirement for a coach to constantly improve, extend and reflect their knowledge and work. The coach will have to have an open eye for new things emerging, revising own ideas and even unlearning overcome things in favour of new insights.

    my five cent,
    Mike

    Reply
    • Olaf
      January 18, 2012

      Michael L.,
      thank you for commenting!
      Regarding the principle of “making yourself dispensable as quickly as possible”, which I would usually phrase with the Nanny McPhee quote:
      “When you need me, but do not want me, I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me, then I have to go.”
      This does not at all imply that you need to hurry. Yet it implies that you should pay constant attention to the needed length of the engagement and be aware of the “danger” of dependance on your presence.
      Not sure if I understand your point about a teacher. As I think that this principle is even more true when you are teaching…
      I agree that “teaching” might not be the best possible term, yet in most cases agile coaching involves some sort of knowledge injection, which is different from giving advice or leading. Would you prefer “training”, “knowledge transfer”? I explored the “changing hats” challenge in an earlier post on this blog…
      To be a bit picky on details: I do not stay as long as “they feel they need me”. See the Nanny McPhee quote:-)
      The limited engagement does not imply that you stop caring, and that you can’t go back. Fully agree on that.
      Included your suggestion of continuous improvement.
      take care
      Olaf

      Reply
  2. Andrea Chiou
    January 8, 2012

    I might add as a bullet

    The mindset of continuous improvement for his/her own skills as well.

    Also, in first bullet, I would like to ask what emphasis you are placing within agile/lean: mindset, principles, practices/methods equally?

    Reply
    • Olaf
      January 18, 2012

      Andrea, thanks for commenting!
      I added your suggestion to the guiding principles.
      Good question about the emphasis: we didn’t discuss this details, yet from my general impression of the conversation that led to this outcome, I’d say it’s about mindset, values and principles, rather than practices and methods. About being Agile rather than doing it. Does that answer your question?
      take care
      Olaf

      Reply
  3. Gaetano Mazzanti
    January 9, 2012

    nice start,
    and good points in previous comments.

    A couple of additional remarks as I am not sure about the cause-effect relationships implied in the Engagement statement:

    “owning goals and purpose” maybe considered a prerequisite but I guess it does not necessarily enable/imply continuous improvement…

    then, sometimes “having people doing the work define goals and purpose” might not be feasible/clever, at least initially. This is something that occurs gradually and it’s a good coach’s job to make it happen. Maybe it’s only a matter of (re)phrasing.

    Reply
    • Olaf
      January 18, 2012

      Gaetano, thank you for your comment!
      One discussion that I’ve had multiple times since I captured this ten days ago, is about the question, what kind of engagements do we accept? I think the crucial point clarifying many questions like yours and the one about “client owning the purpose” when on the other hand we bring “agile” into the organisation, is that I would not accept engagements where the goals and purpose of the client does not match my values. I will elaborate on that in a later post.
      Your last paragraph already quotes a (misleading) rephrase of what we wrote… The client should own purpose and goals, the people should define the steps towards said goals. The client would usually mean the sponsor of your engagement (or the person who signed the budget).
      I think a more elaborate version of this definition should include a clear definition of terms:-)
      take care
      Olaf

      Reply
  4. Paul Boos
    January 9, 2012

    Do you see any difference for internal coaches, where the client = the org you work for? Just curious on your viewpoint…

    There’s an implicit assumption in the last part of the engagement paragraph that the people want to move in the direction of the client that hired you. This is a valid assumption, but explicitly stating that as an assumption is probably a good thing as it can help ID when you may choose to NOT engage. Meaning you attempt to find out whether there is this agreement to move forward before committing to the engagement.

    Another thought; a coach needs to be able to have open discussions so that they can critique where improvement can occur. Having this explicitly covered would be helpful as well, so clients hiring coaches know they are getting a critical thinker/evaluator. Thoughts?

    Lastly, I like Andrea’s suggestion on continuous improvement of skills as well.

    Cheers!
    Paul

    Reply
    • Olaf
      January 18, 2012

      Paul, thank you for commenting!
      Actually, we had that very same discussion (internal/external coaches) in the session that led to this definition. We agreed it’s true for both. Your engagement with any part of the organisation you work with (team, department, …) should be limited in time and have a clear and predefined goal. Then you move on, helping other parts of the organisation. So your sponsor does not change, while you have different clients to work with. In my opinion this is the primary difference between an agile coach and a ScrumMaster: the ScrumMaster is part of a team, and committed for a (potentially) unlimited time to the continuous improvement of the team’s effectiveness. Both challenge the status quo, one from the inside, the other from the outside.
      The alignment of goals of the person paying you and the focus person is a dilemma that all coaches have (if it’s not the same person, that is). We should explicitly add that we do not take engagements where this alignment is not achievable. I think it might be valid to start the engagement as you might have to win people’s buy-in at first (could be team members or management), but I would not continue an engagement where I think that alignment is not possible. Will add this to the principles.
      Being open for discussions, critical thinkers, in my opinion is included in the combination of agile, coaching and servant leadership. We had “Linchpin” on the list as we discussed it and removed it for exactly this reason.
      take care
      Olaf

      Reply
  5. Michael Sahota
    January 12, 2012

    Olaf,

    Strong disagreement on the above definition of an Agile Coach.

    Consider for a moment Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd’s model (which is pretty good): http://www.agilecoachinginstitute.com/resources/competency-model/

    When a coach is mentoring or training, they are not client driven.

    Also, would like to mention Peter Block’s definition of “Flawless Consulting” where there is a 50/50 split of responsibility and ownership for the outcome and the work.

    Effective Agile coaching involves having our own point of view as domain experts in Agile. We are not content and perspective free.

    Not sure if this is semantics or a wording challenge since I suspect we agree on what Agile Coaching is.

    – Michael

    Reply
    • Olaf
      January 18, 2012

      Michael S.,
      I also think that we agree on what Agile Coaching is… So I’ll try to clarify.
      About Lyssa’s and Michael’s model: I agree it is useful, yet I do not fully agree with all of it, and I do not think it is sufficient/complete.
      Above all, it is not concise. What we currently have here is a draft, and definitely far from complete, yet I like the simplicity of it:
      One relatively simple and short definition, a list of minimum skills plus a broader list of useful skills (there the competency model helps), and a set of principles/standards we can agree upon. Dave Nicolette wrote a fairly comprehensive list of these, not focused on agile coaching.

      I am client-driven when I’m mentoring or training, as I do not mentor or train against the goals and purpose defined by the client, but to support them. When I’m mentoring or training, or leading or advising, I am not in a coaching conversation. That’s why we changed “100% client-focused conversation” to “100% client-focused engagement”, as coaching conversations are just a part of agile coaching. The term “client-driven” applies to different levels, as the client in an agile coaching engagement usually is an organisation, whereas a coaching conversation happens with a focus person.
      I fully agree on the shared responsibility, on content, perspective, and our point of view as agile change agents. Yet I do not own the outcome as I avoid taking part in its creation. I do not take part in the client’s work—I don’t program, I don’t write documents, user stories… So there are many things I am responsible for, but these include neither the outcome nor the work.

      Does this help?
      take care
      -Olaf

      Reply
  6. Marcin Floryan
    March 15, 2012

    Thank you Olaf for writing this. I like the summary and the picture it paints.

    If I read it correctly from the second principle naturally follows that every agile coach should have their own personal coach.

    Reply
    • Olaf
      March 15, 2012

      Marcin,
      Thanks for your comment!
      Glad you like it. Yes, I fully agree that every (agile) coach should have a personal coach. Good point.
      Take care
      Olaf

      Reply

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